Can you tell a liar and a cheat by his face?
The wider your face, the more likely you are to be unethical – if you're a man, that is.
According to a new study, Bad to the bone: facial structure predicts unethical behaviour, the wider a man's face is, relative to its height, the more likely that person is to cheat and deceive.
The results provide evidence that physical characteristics are related to behaviour, and suggest some men are predisposed to act unethically to achieve their goals.
The link between facial appearance and immoral behaviour did not exist in women, who were also twice as honest as the men who participated in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study.
In two experiments involving 295 university students, Michael Haselhuhn and Elaine Wong found men with wider faces were more likely to attempt to deceive another person during a negotiation, and more willing to cheat to increase financial gain.
When participants had to do a deal to buy a house, men with higher width-to-height facial ratios were three times more likely to lie than men with low ratios.
And when men with higher ratios were given the chance to cheat on a lottery, 18.6 per cent of them did – compared with 2 per cent of those with low ratios.
Men with wider faces reported feeling more powerful, which translated directly into immoral behaviour, researchers said. "Perhaps some men truly are bad to the bone."
Speaking yesterday, Dr Haselhuhn said the research had everyday implications for the public. They could, for example, peruse photos of car salesmen online to choose an honest negotiator before visiting a saleyard.
"However, it is 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."
In the controlled environment of the study, men were able to lie and cheat almost anonymously, he said. In other settings, in which they could be held accountable for their actions, they would be more likely to be honest.
Auckland University psychologist Barry Hughes said the study was interesting, but should not be interpreted too literally.
Heads they win, or heads they lose: how they measure up
The US study found that presidents John Kennedy and Richard Nixon had faces with high width-to-height ratios, suggesting they would be more likely to behave unethically.
So did fraudster Ken Lay, the former chief executive of Enron.
John Lennon, William Shakespeare and president George Washington, on the other hand, fell into the longer-faced category.
The Dominion Post asked researcher Michael Haselhuhn to run his ruler over five prominent New Zealanders to see how their facial ratios measured up.
He found that Prime Minister John Key, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and Victoria Cross winner Willie Apiata fell into the high width-to-height ratio group.
Labour leader Phil Goff was in the mid-range, and Mana Party MP Hone Harawira was in the lowest range.
The Dominion Post