Facial attractiveness, symmetry and cues of good genes

Joanna E. Scheib, Steven W. Gangestad, Randy Thornhill


Cues of phenotypic condition should be among those used by women in their choice of mates. One marker of better phenotypic condition is thought to be symmetrical bilateral body and facial features. However, it is not clear whether women use symmetry as the primary cue in assessing the phenotypic quality of potential mates or whether symmetry is correlated with other facial markers affecting physical attractiveness. Using photographs of men's faces, for which facial symmetry had been measured, we found a relationship between women's attractiveness ratings of these faces and symmetry, but the subjects could not rate facial symmetry accurately. Moreover, the relationship between facial attractiveness and symmetry was still observed, even when symmetry cues were removed by presenting only the left or right half of faces. These results suggest that attractive features other than symmetry can be used to assess phenotypic condition. We identified one such cue, facial masculinity (cheek–bone prominence and a relatively longer lower face), which was related to both symmetry and full– and half–face attractiveness.