Is he fit?

Hormones can affect how faces look – and how we react to them

Faces play a big part in how attractive we think people are. Some notions of beauty appear to be shared but there is also a degree of individuality, or taste.

As well as revealing something about state of mind, through expressions, the face also offers insight into our biology. Symmetry may send signals about strong genetic stock. But the shape of our face also reflects a hormonal influence, largely due to the masculinising effects of testosterone. This hormone is responsible for the classic features of the he-man – prominent cheekbones and a jutting jaw.

So do women favour the ‘testosteronised man’, the alpha male packed full of male hormone? Testosterone is not a wholly good thing for a man, as it suppresses the immune system. So if a man appears to be healthy despite being pumped full of testosterone, this could suggest he has good genes – he is ‘fit’, in an evolutionary sense at least.

In fact, although masculine faces are perceived as dominant, there is no clear link between masculinity and desirability. Jude Law is more than a match for Sylvester Stallone.

Interestingly, women’s preferences for masculine faces vary slightly across their menstrual cycle. At times of peak fertility their preference increases for more masculine faces (and deeper voices and more manly bodies and smells). However, the effect is seen only in the context of a short-term relationship, rather than longer-term commitment.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘How We Look’ in June 2008 and reviewed and updated in November 2014.

Psychology, Genetics and genomics, Health, infection and disease, Immunology
How We Look
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development