The bare-faced truth about big fat liars

  • @SteveAConnor

Men with wide faces are more likely to lie and cheat than narrow-faced men but they seem to make better businessmen, according to a study that links facial features with a tendency to engage in unethical behaviour.

Scientists believe they have evidence to show that the width of a man's face relative to his facial height is an indicator of how powerful he feels and of his willingness to surreptitiously break social rules to achieve his goals.

The findings suggest that the width-to-height ratio of the face could be an ancient evolutionary signal of a man's aggressiveness when dealing with competitors, said Professor Michael Haselhuhn of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who led the study.

"Men's facial width-to-height ratio is generally a positive signal, evolutionary speaking. Specifically, when men compete for resources with other men, relative facial width is a strong sign of aggressive, self-interested behaviour," Professor Haselhuhn said.

"Importantly, we found evidence that the link between men's facial ratio and their unethical behaviour is caused by a sense of power. Men with larger facial ratios feel more powerful, and this sense of power then leads them to act unethically," he said.

The studies involved testing a group of 192 business students to see how readily they were prepared to either lie or cheat in order to gain an advantage over a competitor. Men with wider faces were about three times more likely to lie and about nine times more likely to cheat compared to narrow-faced men, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Our findings suggest that some men are simply predisposed to act unethically in order to achieve their goals. This has important practical implications, for example someone in the market for a new car may wish to peruse photos of salesmen online before visiting the dealership in person to increase the chances of finding an honest negotiator," Professor Haselhuhn said.

Further research involved examining the facial profiles of about 60 chief executives from the Fortune 500 companies. Those with wider faces were more likely to lead successful companies, suggesting that they are channelling their aggressive, unethical tendencies into something more constructive, he said.

"It's also important to recognise that men with larger facial ratios aren't all bad. The same feelings of power and aggression that spark unethical behaviour can be a net benefit if they are channelled correctly."