Second-to-fourth digit ratio and facial shape in boys: the lower the digit ratio, the more robust the face

Konstanze Meindl, Sonja Windhager, Bernard Wallner, Katrin Schaefer


During human ontogeny, testosterone has powerful organizational and activational effects on the male organism. This has led to the hypothesis that the prenatal environment (as studied through the second-to-fourth digit ratio, 2D : 4D) is not only associated with robust adult male faces that are perceived as dominant and masculine, but also that there is an activational step during puberty. To test the latter, we collected digit ratios and frontal photographs of right-handed Caucasian boys (aged 4–11 years) along with age, body height and body weight. Using geometric morphometrics, we show a significant relationship between facial shape and 2D : 4D before the onset of puberty (explaining 14.5% of shape variation; p = 0.014 after 10 000 permutations, n = 17). Regression analyses depict the same shape patterns as in adults, namely that the lower the 2D : 4D, the smaller and shorter the forehead, the thicker the eyebrows, the wider and shorter the nose, and the larger the lower face. Our findings add to previous evidence that certain adult male facial characteristics that elicit attributions of masculinity and dominance are determined very early in ontogeny. This has implications for future studies in various fields ranging from social perception to life-history strategies.

  • Received November 8, 2011.
  • Accepted January 27, 2012.
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