Losing your mind? The answer is in the mirror

Men with asymmetrical faces are more likely to see their mental powers fade with age, scientists have discovered

Men worried about keeping their marbles should take a long look at themselves in the shaving mirror. Scientists have found that the more symmetrical a man's face is, the less likely he is to suffer mental decline in very old age.

Although the connection between a symmetrical face and cognitive ability may seem surprising, scientists believe that it could be explained by the idea that a good set of genes for facial symmetry may be linked with an equally good set of genes for brain preservation.

The same study, however, failed to find any link between facial symmetry in women and mental decline in old age. Scientists said that they were surprised to find the link in men but not in women of the same age.

The study is based on the Scottish Mental Survey undertaken in 1932 when hundreds of 11-year-olds were given an IQ test. A sample of the survivors of this study were tested again when they reached the age of 79, and then 216 of them were given a further IQ test when they reached the age of 83.

Data from the health survey have enabled scientists to study the mental decline that occurs over a lifetime, and especially the more rapid decline that takes place in much later life in the years just prior to death.

A research team led by Lars Penke of the University of Edinburgh analysed photographs of the 216 pensioners and compared their facial symmetries – how similar the left side is to the right – with the degree of mental decline they suffered between the ages of 79 and 83. "Mental decline accelerates in old ages especially in the four years before death. We found a link between facial symmetry and this decline, but only in men and no link with the overall cognitive decline we see during a lifetime," Dr Penke said. "Statistically, it's strongly significant with facial symmetry explaining about 10 per cent of the cognitive differences for that age group. And although we haven't found the single factor that explains cognitive decline in old age, it's one of the better predictors of it," he said.

The reason why the study did not identify a similar link in women may be due to the fact that women tend to die about four years later than men on average, and that the people in the study were still not old enough to pick up the rapid decline in female mental ability in old age, he said.

Facial symmetry is measured by studying various "landmarks" on the face that are not affected by skin or fat, such as the relative positions of the corners of the eyes, as well as the ears, mouth, chin and nose. The study is published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour.

Dr Penke emphasised that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between facial symmetry and mental decline, only a link that could be explained by the fact that the genes influencing both features are linked in some way.

There is a growing body of emphasis suggesting that the "fitness" of the genes involved in the development of the embryo in the womb, and of the body during childhood, can be measured by analysing the left-right symmetry of the body.

It may be possible to develop the findings into some kind of rudimentary test to screen people at higher risk of rapid mental decline in old age. Facial symmetry is easily measured and anything that indicates an increased risk of mental decline would be useful, Dr Penke said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there