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You’re a Cheat: Your (Wide) Face Gave You Away

New research confirms men with relatively wide faces are more likely to cheat. Excess testosterone is a likely culprit.
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Over the past few years, researchers have been probing a problematic population: Men with wide faces. A series of studies have found that men with a higher-than-average ratio of facial width to height tend to be more aggressive, more competitive, and more prejudiced against outsiders.

A newly published paper suggests they’re also more likely to cheat, at least when a cash prize is at stake. A research team led by Brock University psychologist Cheryl McCormick reports this misbehavior reflects a testosterone-driven “sense of power.”

Men were no more likely than women to cheat, making this the second recent study to contradict the notion that males are inherently less trustworthy than females.

This new Canadian research, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, builds upon a paper published last year, in which Michael Haselhuhn of the University of California-Riverside provided evidence that men with wider faces (relative to facial height) are “more likely to explicitly deceive their counterparts in a negotiation, and are more willing to cheat in order to increase their financial gain.”

McCormick and her colleagues Shawn Geniole, Amanda Keyes and and Justin Carre decided to put that conclusion to a rigorous test, using a larger sample. Their experiment featured 146 men and 76 women, all university undergraduates.

Participants began by filling out the large (154-item) Psychopathic Personality Inventory. It is designed to identify markers of three aspects of psychopathic tendencies: “fearless dominance,” “self-centered impulsivity,” and “cold-heartedness.”

Afterward, all were told they could enter a certain number of ballots in a lottery for cash prizes. They went on a website where they virtually rolled a pair of dice; the total became the number of ballots they could enter.

Participants were unsupervised during this procedure; they reported their total, unaware that a record was kept of their actual score. This gave them the opportunity, and motive, to cheat.

Men were no more likely than women to cheat, making this the second recent study to contradict the notion that males are inherently less trustworthy than females. However, a subset of men—those with larger facial width-to-height ratios—were both more likely to cheat, and cheated to a greater extent, sometimes wildly inflating the actual number they rolled.

These wide-faced men also scored high on the psychopathic personality factor of “fearless dominance.” It seems nothing was going to get in these guys’ way—including the rules.

There’s a likely biological explanation for this. The researchers point to a study published earlier this year that found a correlation between facial width-to-height ratios and testosterone concentrations.

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“Testosterone is associated with dominance, personalized power, leadership, and with antisocial behavior and risk-taking,” they note. Together, these studies suggest that testosterone levels of boys at puberty may influence “both fearless dominance and face structure,” giving them both a certain look and a tendency to behave in an assertive manner.

Two caveats are needed here. First, Haselhuhn cautions that it’s very difficult to determine a man’s facial ratio just by looking at him. So quick-glance judgments of one’s likely trustworthiness are not something you should, well, trust.

Second, McCormick and her colleagues note that being high in “fearless dominance” doesn’t automatically condemn one to criminality; many past presidents have been diagnosed with just such a personality. “Properly channeled aggression and dominance ... may confer benefits and positive outcomes,” they write.

Of course, that is cold comfort if you’ve just been swindled out of money by some wide-faced weasel.