About sonnymoss

I am a scientific and creative writer.

Men’s Faces are Attached to Their Bodies.

This post is a summary and critical review of the paper, Men’s Faces Convey Information About Their Bodies and Their Behaviour: What You See is What You Get, written by Shoup and Gallup (2008). All of the statistical details to be mentioned can be found in the paper, here: (http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2008-13605-011).

They started off with sound citation of related research. The most significant of which was to do with the variables that they proposed to test: shoulder-to-hip ratio (SHR), hand grip-strength, sexual behaviour and facial attractiveness; all of which in males. In short summary of their introduction, all of these variables have a tendency to predict each other in various ways (Evans, 1972; Franzoi and Herzog, 1987; Hughes, Dispenza and Gallup, 2004; Gallup, White, and Gallup, 2007). This study was designed to test an amalgamation of the general findings discussed in their introduction by looking at their relationship to facial attractiveness. A valiant cause, especially with the right data analysis. This is, potentially, the kind of study that pulls a lot of ideas together and tests the resulting hypothesis in a way that validates an all-round interesting idea. In this case, the fascinating question being tested is: is female judgement of male facial attractiveness related to male SHR, hand grip-strength and/or sexual behaviour?

The participants used to create the stimuli were undergraduate males with a mean age of 20 years whose grip-strength was measured using a Lafayette Instruments Model 78010, SHR by using the Hughes and Gallop (2003) method and information about sexual behaviour, including age of virginity loss and total number of sexual partners, was collected using a questionnaire. All valid methods of data collection, despite the fact that the information collected from the questionnaire was probably subject to the biggest example of truth-stretching since Grov, Wells and Parsons (2013). A questionnaire was more than likely the most practical option for collecting information about participants’ past behaviour.

The stimuli were photographs taken only from the neck up, with the same lighting and back-drop as each other and all hats and accessories removed. However, there was no mention of controlling the stimuli for facial hair, which is a problem that will be returned to when assessing the discussion section. Females of the same age judged the stimuli with no time limit, using a 5-point Likert scale and the stimuli were randomised and split into two sets which were judged separately by female participants in independent groups. Females were asked not to rate males that they recognised, and menstrual cycle and birth control were noted. However, this is the last to be heard of the menstrual cycle and birth control variable/variables, leading the reader to assume that there was no interesting relationship found in this area.

As has been found in research previous to the current study, specifically the studies mentioned in their introduction, there were significant moderate to low-moderate univariate correlations (r = 0.5 to 0.3) between SHR and grip-strength, grip-strength and number of sexual partners, grip-strength and facial attractiveness and SHR and facial attractiveness. However, a multiple regression was carried out on these variables, finding the only significant semi-partial correlation to be between facial attractiveness and SHR. This is interesting to note, as it tells the reader that, when all of the other variables are accounted for, the relationship that stands out is between these two variables. That is to say, the more attractive that the male face was rated by a female, the higher that male’s SHR was likely to be, and these have only simple positive correlations with the other variables.

In the discussion section, the current study highlighted how the female ratings of male attractiveness accounted for most of the variance in SHR, sexual behaviour and grip strength in male university students. However, the simple correlations and multiple regression displayed in the results section were not enough to state this, and no ANOVAs were shown. In fact, the multiple regression that was shown suggested that a common significant extraneous variable in the simple correlations was SHR or facial attractiveness.

The current study then went on to discuss how hormonal and genetic factors could possibly influence both the face and the SHR, accounting for their relationship. This is where the problem of not controlling the stimuli for facial hair came in. Considering the current study’s notion of hormonal influence, it should be remembered that facial hair is affected by testosterone (Lee, Jaffe and Midgley Jr, 1974). Failure to display information about facial hair of stimuli suggested that it was not controlled when creating the stimuli, and so is a possible extraneous variable to consider.

The current study also discussed a non significant negative correlation between age of first sexual encounter and SHR. Why a non significant correlation was discussed as if it is significant was not explained. This was also linked to promiscuity in the current study, and the negative correlation between age of loss of virginity and number of sexual partners was then mentioned, despite this correlation also being non significant.

It was also mentioned that grip strength is not influenced by environmental factors. This is simply not the case. Various external influences can affect grip strength, both negatively and positively (Dash and Telles, 2001; Krafi, Fitts and Hammond, 1992). This does not matter in relation to the current study’s findings a great deal, and is actually contradictory to their own introduction. It was, however, mentioned as a point in their argument within their discussion section and is categorically incorrect. The current study then goes on to talk in relatively detailed levels about intrasexual selection in grip-strength via handshakes, with scant regard to its own findings, methods and research question.

Considering the research question, which was essentially a test of an amalgamation of various relationships between variables, some form of multilevel linear model (MLM) may have been a more appropriate research method. Although, perhaps this method was avoided because of the independent groups measure implemented, as a MLM can be seen as a measure to correct for the potential problems in a repeated measures design. The findings were still interesting, though, distinctly in the results section of the paper. From these, we can tell that men’s facial attractiveness is very much related to the attractiveness of their body morphologies. If the study’s discussion section is to be followed, there is a very real likelihood that this is due to testosterone levels. That is to say, men’s faces are attached to their bodies. In all honesty, though, this is a very interesting paper from a very interesting field.

Dash, M., & Telles, S. (2001). Improvement in hand grip strength in normal volunteers and rheumatoid arthritis patients following yoga training. Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 45(3), 355-360.
Evans, R. B. (1972). Physical and biochemical characteristics of homosexual men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 39(1), 140.
Franzoi, S. L., & Herzog, M. E. (1987). Judging Physical Attractiveness What Body Aspects Do We Use?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 13(1), 19-33.
Gallup, A. C., White, D. D., & Gallup, G. G. (2007). Handgrip strength predicts sexual behavior, body morphology, and aggression in male college students. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28(6), 423-429.
Grov, C., Wells, B. E., & Parsons, J. T. (2013). Self-reported penis size and experiences with condoms among gay and bisexual men. Archives of sexual behavior, 42(2), 313-322.
Hughes, S. M., Dispenza, F., & Gallup, G. G. (2004). Ratings of voice attractiveness predict sexual behavior and body configuration. Evolution and Human Behavior, 25(5), 295-304.
Hughes, S. M., & Gallup, G. G. (2003). Sex differences in morphological predictors of sexual behavior: Shoulder to hip and waist to hip ratios. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24(3), 173-178.
Krafi, G. H., Fitts, S. S., & Hammond, M. C. (1992). Techniques to improve function of the arm and hand in chronic hemiplegia. Arch Phys Med Rehabil, 73.
Lee, P. A., Jaffe, R. B., & Midgley Jr, A. R. (1974). Serum gonadotropin, testosterone and prolactin concentrations throughout puberty in boys: a longitudinal study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 39(4), 664-672.
Shoup, M. L., & Gallup Jr, G. G. (2008). Men’s faces convey information about their bodies and their behavior: What you see is what you get. Evolutionary psychology.

A Short Update

The last time that I posted anything was around 3 years ago, when I was a first year undergraduate at Bangor University, studying for my B. Sc. in Psychology. Since then I’ve graduated with a 2:1, and even completed an M. Sc. in Psychological Research at the same university. Some things have changed since then, regarding myself.

The education that I have gone through has made me a much more capable writer of science, for a start. I will eventually edit each of my previous posts with a brief introduction indicating my embarrassment of them, for that reason. Something else that has changed, though, has been my particular interests within the field of psychology. 

After a module in my third year on the Evolution of Human Social Behaviour, I found an intrinsic interest in looking for adaptive explanations for everything. This will be the path most of my posts will be taking from now on. So, please do comment on any and all of my posts with everything from harsh criticism to soft words of agreement. I would love a chance to discuss the topics I love!

Face Perception

Imagine if you couldn’t recognise a person’s face without getting close enough and at the right angle. This would be a very disadvantageous way for humans to perceive the world. We need to be able to communicate with each other, and in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA) nonverbal communication must have been in frequent use, otherwise it would not have carried on into modern humans. For example, a quick raising of the eyebrows toward another person is a sign of greeting and affection (Allyn and Bacon, 2002).

So, being duped by innate perceptions such as the hollow face illusion would be better than being duped into seeing real faces as things that are not, but how does this illusion work? (To have a look at the illusion click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc6LRxjqzkA)

The hollow face illusion still hasn’t been precisely explained, but we know that it has something to do with the human perception of faces. It has been found that when the hollow mask is turned upside down, the effect dwindles, as it does when the face is replaced with hollow, non-objects. Hill and Johnston (2007) used a typical jelly mold, a hollow pineapple and a hollow teddy bear in their experiment, and arguably found that the more human the hollow object, the more affect the illusion had on participants.

Of course there are problems with this, as a pineapple is rarely described as more human than a traditional jelly mold. Also, this is not what Hill and Johnston originally set out to find. They were really just looking at the effect of this illusion on random hollow objects. There is also the problems of only a small amount of participants having been used.

All in all, though, it seems as if the more like a human face a concave object is, the more potent the illusion, and I am sure that this is because of an evolutionary adaptation to nonverbal communication.

Problems with “Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man”

This week I will be looking at Heath’s (1972) study, “Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man”. This is a study that took place at around the same time as some of Milgram’s, as well as Zimbardo’s experiments that have since been judged as unethical. Heath’s study in particular involved surgically implanting devices that created electrical impulses in areas associated with orgasms in order to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia.

His reasoning was that people with schizophrenia don’t feel pleasure, that they are incapable of it, and that causing them to feel pleasure by stimulating previously inactive parts of the brain would cure them of their disorder. Participants (with schizophrenia) were implanted with these devices and the effects of this on them was what was being investigated. This is where my main problem with this study comes in; the hypothesis was indirect.

An indirect hypothesis is, no doubt, useful in that it paves the way for a more scientific (less researcher bias) hypothesis in the future. However, when patients are involved I think that there should be more care taken, and that a logical, believable, directional hypothesis should be put in place. If a directional hypothesis was used and Heath had great conviction in his potential treatment, it would be better in that vulnerable human beings wouldn’t be debased to the level of lab rats. A study by Kelly and Conley (2006) did a more ethical job, in my opinion. Acting on the information that people with schizophrenia actually complain about sexual dysfunction, trials of drugs were given at a gradually increasing, safe rate.

So, although Heath’s study was in some way logical and helpful to the psychological community, I feel that it was carried out in a way that is more representative of a disturbing horror movie than a scientific community (especially one specialising in the wellbeing of people).


  • Heath, R. G., (1972). Pleasure and brain activity in man. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 154(1).
  • Kelly, D. L. & Conley, R. R., (2006). A randomized double-blind 12-week study of quetiapine, risperidone or fluphenazine on sexual functioning in people with schizophrenia. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 31(3)340-346.


It used to be believed by some that consciousness could be explained by a little man that lives in each of our heads, controlling everything that we do. Each of these little men was known as a homunculus. This is, of course, absurd. Brain scans don’t show little men, open up anyone’s head and you will not find a little man, and if you had a little man controlling your consciousness, who would be controlling his? This would lead to an infinite amount of little men and wouldn’t logically explain the existence of consciousness. The idea of dualism was popular during early psychology, and this approach potentially allows the inexplicable to be left alone as something not of this earth. So, if these little men are in control of everyone, the dualist approach would allow them to be seen as purely spiritual beings that can’t be seen by us as humans.

What I would like to put forward is that, although the idea of a homunculus is in itself ridiculous, it was a useful explanation for a time in which technology and neurobiology hadn’t developed enough to give an intricate explanation for behaviour. Nowadays, the idea of a little man controlling our bodies is much less popular, but aspects of psychology have been influenced by it. A study by Logan and Bundesen (2003) that looks at the possibility of a built-in act of control when performing various complex tasks gave credit (in jest) to the idea of a homunculus (titling the article “Clever homunculus”). If this part of psychology can be explained (even in jest) as being under the control of a homunculus, then what harm could have come from people believing in these little men before they could have known any better?


  • Logan, G. D., & Bundesen, C., 2003. Clever homunculus: Is there an endogenous act of control in the explicit task-cuing procedure? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance,29(3), 575-599.

Adrenaline and Memory

Do people with smaller amygdalas remember stressful events as clearly as people with regularly sized ones?

In most cases, we all remember acutely stressful times in our lives more clearly than a lot of other memories (“acutely” meaning immediately stressful, for example a haunted house or a near-death experience). These acute stressors lead to a surge of adrenaline that is to do more with our base instincts than any conscious thought. The amygdala plays a large part in this, and does lead to more clear memory of the stressful experience. As Cahill and McGaugh (1998) have explained, the link between the amygdala and memory is not causal, but its activation is what leads to these distinctly clear memories.

Does this mean that those with smaller amygdalas remember acutely stressful events less clearly, then? According to Welch, et al. (2009) people with learning disabilities and a small amygdala are more susceptible to suffering from schizophrenia. Interestingly, this could support a link between the amygdala and memory. Those that cannot remember will inevitably find it difficult to learn, so those with smaller amygdalas would naturally suffer from disorders in learning. This is supported by Exner, et al. (2004), who found that those in their sample of people with schizophrenia and smaller amygdalas characteristically had trouble learning.

So there is a definite link between the amygdala and memory, but is there a precise link between the two?


  • Cahill, L., & McGaugh, J. L., (1998). Mechanisms of emotional arousal and lasting declarative memory. Trends in Neurosciences21(7). 294-299.
  • Exner, C., Boucsein, K., Degner, D., Irle, E., & Weniger, G, (2004). Impaired emotional learning and reduced amygdala size in schizophrenia: a 3-month follow-up. Schizophrenia Research, 71(2-3). 493-503.
  • Welch, K. A, Stanfield, A. C. The link to this journal article no longer works. I cannot find it anywhere else, so cannot finish citing it. Here is the link: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_s0033291709990870

Do Women Prefer Emotionally Stable Men?

It is reasonable to assume that female orgasms occur to increase the chance of impregnation. So, surely it would be advantageous for these chances to occur more often with “better” males, but what is better? In regards to such a base instinct as sexual desire, we would expect an equally instinctual sense of judging possible mates.

A questionnaire given to 86 sexually active heterosexual couples by Thornhill, Gangestad and Comer (1995) found that couples where the male was more symmetrical reported more orgasms from the female. Similarly, Gangestad, Thornhill and Yeo (1993) looked at the symmetry of 72 students, mathematically, took photographs of their faces and had others rate them on attractiveness. It was found that symmetry near enough equates to attractiveness. How does male symmetry play on the female mind, then?

Seeing as we are looking at evolutionary explanations, looking at the behaviour of nonhuman primates seems appropriate. According to Fernandez-Carriba, Loechus, Morallo and Hpkins (2002), chimpanzees’ faces become asymmetrical when expressing emotion (with the left side of the mouth acting differently due to emotion). 36 chimps from the USA and Spain were filmed in their enclosures over two nine-month periods, and their faces were analysed using Adobe Photoshop. With an inter observer reliability of 93%, the findings can be taken seriously.

So, we could say that an important trait that human females look for in human males is the ability to deal with stressful situations calmly and practically. This would all be purely correlational, with no real way of showing that one causes the other. Of course this is also all assuming that female orgasms are beneficial to impregnation.


Fernandez-Carriba, S., Loeches, A., Morullo, A. & Hopkins, W. D., 2002. Asymmetry in facial expression of emotions by chimpanzees. Neuropsychologia. 40(9). 1523-1533.

Gangestad, S. W., Thornhill, R. & Yeo, R. A., 1994. Facial attractiveness, developmental stability, and fluctuating asymmetry. Ethology and Sociobiology. 15(2). 73-85.

Thornhill, R., Gangestad, S. W. & Comer, R., 1995. Human female orgasm and mate fluctuating asymmetry. Animal Behaviour. 50(6). 1601-1615.