Facial fluctuating asymmetry is not associated with childhood ill-health in a large British cohort study

Nicholas Pound, David W Lawson, Arshed M Toma, Stephen Richmond, Alexei I Zhurov, Ian S Penton-Voak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)
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The idea that symmetry in facial traits is associated with attractiveness because it reliably indicates good physiological health, particularly to potential sexual partners, has generated an extensive literature on the evolution of human mate choice. However, large-scale tests of this hypothesis using direct or longitudinal assessments of physiological health are lacking. Here, we investigate relationships between facial fluctuating asymmetry (FA) and detailed individual health histories in a sample (n = 4732) derived from a large longitudinal study (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) in South West England. Facial FA was assessed using geometric morphometric analysis of facial landmark configurations derived from three-dimensional facial scans taken at 15 years of age. Facial FA was not associated with longitudinal measures of childhood health. However, there was a very small negative association between facial FA and IQ that remained significant after correcting for a positive allometric relationship between FA and face size. Overall, this study does not support the idea that facial symmetry acts as a reliable cue to physiological health. Consequently, if preferences for facial symmetry do represent an evolved adaptation, then they probably function not to provide marginal fitness benefits by choosing between relatively healthy individuals on the basis of small differences in FA, but rather evolved to motivate avoidance of markers of substantial developmental disturbance and significant pathology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20141639
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1792
Early online date13 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2014

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Social Cognition


  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • England
  • Facial Asymmetry
  • Female
  • Health
  • Human Development
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Morbidity


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