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Illusion Chasers

Illusion Chasers


Illusions, Delusions, and Everyday Deceptions
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Wide Faces Make You Selfish

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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An intriguing new paper in PLoS ONE by Haselhuhn and colleagues suggests that men with wide faces make you selfish. No… really. The explanation is simple: {taking a deep breath now} since men with wide faces are more aggressive, less-trustworthy, and more prone to engage in deception (that last one is my favorite!) it is indubitably beneficial for you to assume that any wide-faced dude is dubitable, and for you to preempt said presumed onset of selfish behavior with—you guessed it—selfish behavior. Fight fire with fire.

One possible explanation, the authors propose, is that this vicious circle—this sardine that bites its own tail—is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, because you assume that the fat guy is selfish (you might wonder: perhaps this chow-champ wants a bigger piece of the pie?), it follows logically that you must protect your interests, which then does not go unnoticed by your wide-bodied companion, prompting selfish behavior.

The authors start off by testing the premise: wide-faced guys are indeed prone to selfish behavior, tested with a battery of economic games.  Check: proself behavior confirmed. And not just competitive behavior, they maximized their irrespective of their opponent’s resources.  Then they asked random people to play the same games against an opponent represented by a photo of a face characterized by its width-to-height ratio. They found that people only acted selfish when they were playing against a wide-faced male.

But what does it mean now that I recently changed from morbidly obese (wide-faced) to healthy-weight (less-wide-faced). Am I less selfish now, or are you?

Stephen L. Macknik About the Author: Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik are laboratory directors at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Follow on Twitter @illusionchasers.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. rockjohny 2:55 pm 10/22/2013

    I always wondered why Senators tend to be of that type. Sitting in a lot of meetings but schmoozing and gorging on the perks that come with the job is my guess. See Hartenfeld for an example.

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  2. 2. EyesWideOpen 3:54 pm 10/22/2013

    Read this article again to see how accurately it reflects the following abstract from the given link to the paper:

    “Results from four studies demonstrate that individuals behave more selfishly when interacting with men with greater fWHRs, and this selfish behavior, in turn, elicits selfish behavior in others.”

    In other words, it has nothing to do with men that have wide faces (nevermind the absence of fat faced women in the paper). Rather, it has everything to do with people’s misconceptions about fat people. People assume that fat people greedily consume food resources, and therefore, they must be greedy in every other aspect of their lives. This may be true or not, based on WHY the individual in question is fat (which widens the face of that individual as a consequence). Perhaps they are fat because of their metabolism, even though they eat extremely healthy and in moderation? Perhaps they are fat because they shovel McDonald’s food into their fat faces? Everyone judges it is the later, and thus, the selfish treatment that creates a behavioral feedback loop.

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  3. 3. OlgatheGreat 2:57 pm 10/25/2013

    Why does the autor use wide-faced as a synonym for fat? Did the study make this decision? Otherwise, it would be easy to control for body weight while testing wide-facedness independently.

    (Wide face here. Not fat.)

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  4. 4. OlgatheGreat 7:21 am 10/27/2013

    Why does the author equate wide faced-ness with obesity? Is this what the study did? Because genetic differences in face width go far beyond body fat.

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  5. 5. Stephen L. Macknik in reply to Stephen L. Macknik 9:06 pm 11/4/2013

    Actually, I haven’t equated wide-facedness with fatness or obesity. But it is one cause of wide-facedness so it is relevant.

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  6. 6. bucketofsquid 1:40 pm 11/6/2013

    OK, first of all, I didn’t read the PloS One article. Having read this brief overview of that article my main question is where on earth did they come up with their assertion that wide faced men are more aggressive, less trust worthy and deceptive?

    It has been shown that men with higher testosterone levels have wider faces and such men tend toward less stability in relationships and less attachment to children but these are pretty vague generalities and there are plenty of exceptions to this supposed rule.

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