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Study Finds Facial Features Correlate With Good Parenting

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Here's a link to the article "Women spot ideal fathers at a glance":

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Women can work out whether a man will make a good father just by looking at his face, research shows.

...

Dr Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist from Northumbria University, said: "It seems that women can tell an awful lot from a man's face.

"They can tell whether he likes children and his testosterone levels, and it may be that this involves two different signals. The paper is a step forward in our understanding, but it does not go all the way to answering the questions about just what makes someone a good parent or perfect partner."

So let me get this straight: one's facial features determine one's affection for children and ability to be a good parent? So much for all those books on parenting - if you haven't got a soft jawline, you're destined for parental failure. Research proves it, after all.

This is a perfect example of what happens when you divorce science from philosophy. These researchers come up with an absurd conclusion and don't even think twice. I wouldn't be surprised to one day read a headline that said "Research shows that reality doesn't exist after all".

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This is a perfect example of what happens when you divorce science from philosophy.
Maybe: but you need to read the article (you haven't yet, have you?). One thing that you can quite rightly conclude is that this kind of crap is what happens when you get ignoramuses writing about science for the Daily Mail. My local paper reports this differently -- not that any scientist concluded that facial features determine parenting skills, but that women tend to have a belief that there is a correlation (not necessarily even a causal one). To quote -- with emphasis -- from one the authors of the paper (from the news) "The more they perceived the men as liking kids, the more likely they could see having a long-term relationship". Before leaping to conclusions about what the researchers claimed and whether they have a bad philosophy, it would be good to check what they actually say. Give it a week, and it should be at a newsstand near you. Never believe the Daily Mail.
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This study is nothing new (saw a similiar study on PBS a few years back), and the findings make sense. When it comes to physical look, men with strong, chiseled facial features, are almost always going to be considered more atractive, than those with the "babyface" syndrome. The more testosterone you have, the harder your facial features - that's why women's faces are mostly soft and round, while it's just the opposite with men ("square" jaws for example). For comparison's sake, next time you get a chance, take a look at women bodybuilder's faces - they loose the soft outline and start looking more like men's.

So there's definitely a correlation between strong facial features, and testosterone. Women being more attracted to men with "square jaws", is just nature's way of equiping them with testosterone level detection. Clearly in our evolutionary history, men with high testosterone levels were better equipped to protect and provide for the mate - and that's why women subconciously find them more attractive.

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Never believe the Daily Mail.

I wasn't aware of the nature of this publication. After reading some other coverage of the study, it seems to have more substance to it. I'll keep a watch out for the Mail in the future. Anybody know a resource giving reviews of the quality of different newspapers?

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If the Daily Mail reported that scientists had proven that dogs have 4 legs, I'd want to see a citation of the actual research paper before I'd believe it. Seriously, the DM is a joke (like most British tabloids), and anything it prints should be ignored on principle until you can verify it in a more reputable source.

I've been unable to find a copy of the actual research paper, but you can read the abstract here

edit: It could be worse though, I read a report of the same survey in a scottish tabloid today, of even more dubious quality than the daily mail. The first paragraph begins "Women can tell if men will make good dads with just a glance. Reserachers have found women have a subconscious radar they use when seeking a mate", and they proceed by rating several celebrities out of 10 for attractiveness and speculating whether they would make good fathers. I'm not making this up.

edit2: Although having said that, I agree that this 'research' does seem extremely dubious, and it reminds me of the more unsavoury aspects of evopsych (the apparent lack of cultural controls is perhaps the most glaring omission). I'll reserve judgement until I've seen the actual paper though.

Edited by Hal
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I managed to find a copy of the paper (PM me if you want it). I’ve got math exams coming up over the next few days so don’t have time to go over it properly, but I read through it a couple of times.

The most obvious problem I have with research like this is the lack of cultural controls. For example, if I perform a study involving American women and find that women tend to find 'masculine' looking men attractive (where masculinity is related to testosterone levels), I cannot necessarily conclude that there are genetic factors at play – it could be that there are specific cultural reasons why American women are attracted to ‘masculine’ men, and it cannot be assumed that these generalize to the whole human species without further evidence. Its possible for a culture to have its own local mythology which promotes ideas like ‘masculine men are good in bed’, or ‘masculine men have better jobs’ or whatever, and this would presumably have an effect on what women find attractive. I find these sort of problems recurring time and time again in evolutionary psychology – there seems to be an intransigent refusal to accept that culture can be just as important as genetics, and it makes a lot of the research extremely dubious.

I’ll try to summarize what I took from the paper, since I feel its been misrepresented in this thread. Firstly, the authors don’t claim at any point that good parenting is linked to testesteoren levels – indeed one of the findings was that there was no correlation between testosterone and a man’s stated interest in children. Rather, the research is focused on the inferences women make from looking at a male face. The ultimate goal is to find a genetic basis for attraction, and the neo-darwinian framework the authors are working within is summed up in the initial paragraph

In paternally investing species such as humans, the

desirability of a male as a mating partner is expected to

be a function of two dimensions: his genetic quality and his

ability and willingness to provide parental investment

circulating testosterone (Penton-Voak & Chen 2004)

provide further support for the hypothesis that masculinity

signals genetic quality. Facial masculinity has also been

Note the complete disinterest in culture, personal psychology, or anything else that isn’t entirely genetic.

The research is based on the following premises, which are supported by previous research:

1) There is a relationship between facial masculinity and testosterone levels (see my above comments about masculinity and cultural subjectivism).

2) “High testestoerone levels are substainable only by healthy men”. In conjunction with 1), this would show that facial masculinity is correlated with genetic fitness.

The authors then bring attractiveness into the discussion, by quoting 2 previous pieces of research, the first which I find extremely interesting

1) Women tend to be more attracted to 'masculine' faces when they are in the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle than they are normally (!)

2) When asked to rate faces for attractiveness as both short term and long term partners, women show stronger preferences for masculinity when assessing men as short term mates than they when assessing them as long term mates.

I find point 2) also interesting, but again, I don’t think theres any necessary connection with genetics. As I mentioned above, women preferring masculine men for short term relationships (flings/causal sex etc) could be linked to cultural mythology about masculine people being better in bed, or leading more exciting lives, or whatever. While this research certainly _could_ show something directly related to evolution, it doesn’t have to be interpreted this way. But evolutionary psychologists tend not to be interested in nurture/culture/volition :lol:

Anyway, the study in question was concerned with the evaluation of several hypothesis:

we hypothesized, first,

that women’s masculinity ratings would correlate with

men’s testosterone, and, second, that women’s ratings of

how much men like children would correlate with men’s

scores on the interest in infants test. Based on the

expectation that women’s short-term mate judgments

will focus on cues to genetic quality versus long-term mate

judgments being focused more on cues to paternal

investment, we also hypothesized that

perceived liking of children would predict attractiveness as

a long-term mate but perceived masculinity would predict

attractiveness as a short-term mate.

I don’t find the first claim particularly interesting, since I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t a link between perceived masculinity and testosterone. So the research is really about whether women can successfully predict a man’s interest in children just from looking at his face. The part about attractiveness is related to 2) above – evolutionary psychology would predict that women would be more likely to go for men who like children when choosing a long terrm mate (since it increases the likihood of offspring survival).

I’ve not had time to properly go over the methodology, but the authors claim that the results support these hypothesis – the predictions a woman makes about a man liking children from seeing a photo of just his face is significantly correlated with whether the man actually does like children. And this is certainly an interesting finding, and in my opinion the only thing that the study can be said to have demonstrated.

The researchers also asked the women to rate the male faces for ‘short term attractiveness’ and ‘long term attractiveness’. They found that their judgements about liking children were correlated with both of these, but that testosterone levels were only correlated with short term attractiveness. Again, I don’t think any conclusions about causal relationship can be drawn from this. An alternative hypothesis to the evolutionary one could be that (eg) women think a man likes children because he has a kind, safe face, and they are attracted to him because they think that someone kind will make them happy in the long term (in other words, the actual causality relation is “looking kind” causes you to be perceived as both liking children, and being a good long term mate. In this case, there would be no direct casual relationship between liking children and attractiveness – this would just be a correlation).

One of the parts of the research I found most interesting involved one of the controls they used (it wasn’t reported in the conclusions, or any of the newspaper article summaries) – they found that when a man had talked to a woman just before having his photo taken, he was rated as being more likely to like children. In other words, talking to a woman made a noticeable difference to the man’s facial expression/posture – perhaps it made him loo happier or something, I’m not sure (there was a separate control for how 'positive' a person looked). I think this highlights how hard it is to actually perform research like this effectively – there are just so many different variables that you have to control. Who would have thought that something as unremarkable as who a person spoke to before having his photo taken would have a significant effect on the results?

Edited by Hal
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I managed to find a copy of the paper (PM me if you want it).
I assume it's in issue 1592 which should be up for me in a day or two. Anyhow, I'll need to read the paper, but from what you've quoted, those are important criticisms. "Seek a genetic explanation, and ye shall find a genetic explanation". Did they actually not do Americans vs. Brits?! Well, this sort of lack of control comes up in bird and monkey language studies all the time.
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. Did they actually not do Americans vs. Brits?! Well, this sort of lack of control comes up in bird and monkey language studies all the time.

Its even worse than that. All the female subjects were actually undergraduate students at Santa Barbara university.

Edited by Hal
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