Does Facial Structure Predict Academic Performance?

ISI: Does Facial Structure Predict Academic Performance?


2018 - Personality and Individual Differences - Vol. 129. Pp. 1-5


During the past decade, individual differences in facial structure has been found to be linked to several social outcomes (Antonakis & Eubanks, 2017; Graham, Harvey, & Puri, 2017; Todorov, 2017; Todorov, Olivola, Dotsch, & Mende-Siedlecki, 2015). A particular metric, the facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR), has received a great deal of attention given its relationship to traits important to social interaction such as assertiveness or dominance (Dixson, 2017; Geniole, Keyes, Carré, & McCormick, 2014; Lefevre, Lewis, Perrett, & Penke, 2013; Valentine, Li, Penke, & Perrett, 2014; but for null results see Kosinski (2017) and Özener (2012)). For example, consistent with the notion that assertiveness is an important factor for leadership effectiveness (Hogan, 2006; Judge & Bono, 2000), Wong, Ormiston, and Haselhuhn (2011) found that firms whose CEOs had wider faces achieved superior financial performance than those whose CEOs had narrower faces. Hahn et al. (2017) found that both CEOs of companies listed in the stock market and leaders of influential non-governmental organizations tended to have higher fWHRs than matched control individuals. Interestingly, this line of research suggests that social outcomes are better explained by signals and expectations (e.g., perceptions of dominance) rather than actual behavior (Olivola, Funk, & Todorov, 2014; Stoker, Garretsen, & Spreeuwers, 2016). Other studies have suggested that self-fulfilling prophecies tend to play a major role in explaining these findings (Haselhuhn, Wong, & Ormiston, 2013).   In the present study, we examined whether fWHR is related to academic performance among students in an undergraduate business and economics program. Although academic performance is strongly predicted by cognitive abilities and self-discipline (Duckworth & Seligman, 2006; Kuncel, Hezlett, & Ones, 2004), social aspects play a role as well (Bowles, Gintis, & Meyer, 1999; Petrides, Frederickson, & Furnham, 2004; Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998). A widely-cited study by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) on the self-fulfilling prophecy, entitled the Pygmalion in the classroom, showed how teachers' biased expectations of students were related to students' academic performance, as measured by their grades (marks). In addition, when student in-class participation and presentations are an important element of grading ( Fritschner, 2000), personality traits related to social behaviors tend to be significant predictors of academic performance. For example, Rothstein, Paunonen, Rush, and King (1994) found that dominance was a significant predictor of academic performance among MBA students. This relationship was explained by in-class participation but not by performance in written exams.   We expected that fWHR would be related to academic performance, but more strongly in some courses than in others. Business and economics programs are broad in terms of the courses offered (Gropper, 2007; Letcher & Neves, 2010). In turn, courses from different disciplines are affected differently by the social aspects of academic performance. Research in the sociology of science shows that social aspects are more likely to have an effect on academic outcomes in disciplines where mathematics are not crucial, such as anthropology and management, than in more quantitative-related disciplines, such as physics and economics (Glick, Miller, & Cardinal, 2007; Kuhn, 1970; Pfeffer, 1993). Consistent with this, non-quantitative courses are more likely to be assessed, in addition to written tests, using oral presentations and other non-written tasks. In contrast, quantitative-related courses are more likely to be assessed using exclusively “objective tests” (Braxton & Hargens, 1996; Shachar & Neumann, 2003). As such, we expected that fWHR would have a greater impact on academic performance in non-quantitative courses than in those in which quantitative elements have a more important role.


Facial structure, Facial morphology, Facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR), Dominance, Assertiveness, Academic performance.

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