Symmetry and sexual dimorphism in human faces: interrelated preferences suggest both signal quality

Anthony C. Little, Benedict C. Jones, Lisa M. DeBruine, David R. Feinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Symmetry and masculinity in human faces have been proposed to be cues to the quality of the owner. Accordingly, symmetry is generally found attractive in male and female faces, and femininity is attractive in female faces. Women's preferences for male facial masculinity vary in ways that may maximize genetic benefits to women's offspring. Here we examine same- and opposite-sex preferences for both traits (Study 1) and intercorrelations between preferences for symmetry and sexual dimorphism in faces (Study 1 and Study 2) using computer-manipulated faces. For symmetry, we found that male and female judges preferred symmetric faces more when judging faces of the opposite-sex than when judging same-sex faces. A similar pattern was seen for sexual dimorphism (i.e., women preferred more masculine male faces than men did), but women also showed stronger preferences for femininity in female faces than men reported. This suggests that women are more concerned with female femininity than are men. We also found that in women, preferences for symmetry were positively correlated with preferences for masculinity in male faces and that in men preferences for symmetry were positively correlated with preferences for femininity in female faces. These latter findings suggest that symmetry and sexual dimorphism advertise a common quality in faces or that preferences for these facial cues are dependent on a common quality in the judges. Collectively, our findings support the view that preferences for symmetry and sexual dimorphism are related to mechanisms involved in sexual selection and mate choice rather than functionless by-products of other perceptual mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)902-908
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date14 May 2008
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2008


  • facial attractiveness
  • preferences
  • sexual dimorphism
  • sexual selection
  • symmetry

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