Do facial averageness and symmetry signal health?

Evol Hum Behav. 2001 Jan;22(1):31-46. doi: 10.1016/s1090-5138(00)00060-x.


We investigated whether the attractive facial traits of averageness and symmetry signal health, examining two aspects of signalling: whether these traits are perceived as healthy, and whether they provide accurate health information. In Study 1, we used morphing techniques to alter the averageness and symmetry of individual faces. Increases in both traits increased perceived health, and perceived health correlated negatively with rated distinctiveness (a converse measure of averageness) and positively with rated symmetry of the images. In Study 2, we examined whether these traits signal real, as well as perceived, health, in a sample of individuals for whom health scores, based on detailed medical records, were available. Perceived health correlated negatively with distinctiveness and asymmetry, replicating Study 1. Facial distinctiveness ratings of 17-year-olds were associated with poor childhood health in males, and poor current and adolescent health in females, although the last association was only marginally significant. Facial asymmetry of 17-year-olds was not associated with actual health. We discuss the implications of these results for a good genes account of facial preferences.