The face may reveal facts from childhood: Study

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh claim that it is possible to learn about a person’s childhood by looking at the symmetry of their face.

The team used 15 different facial features to find that people with asymmetric faces tended to have more deprived childhoods, while symmetrical faces suggest selfishness. People with symmetrical faces tend to be healthier and more attractive, they are also more self-sufficient and have less of an incentive to cooperate and seek help from others, according to the study.

The team examined the facial features of 292 people at the age of 83 who took part in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921, a study that has followed the participants throughout their life. They examined 15 facial “landmarks,” including the positions of the eyes, nose, mouth and ears, and were able to compare the facial symmetry of participants to information about their social status in childhood, including their parents' occupations, how crowded their home was and whether they had an indoor or outdoor lavatory.

The findings suggest that early childhood experiences such as nutrition, illness, and exposure to cigarette smoke and pollution and other aspects of upbringing leave their mark in people’s facial features. However, faces are not affected by socioeconomic status in later life.

Professor Ian Deary from the department of psychology at the university's centre of cognitive aging, explained, “Symmetry in the face is thought to be a marker of what is called developmental stability – the body’s ability to withstand environmental stressors and not be knocked off its developmental path.” He added, “We wondered whether facial symmetry would faintly record either the stressors in early life, which we thought might be especially important, or the total accumulated effects of stressors. The results indicated that it is deprivation in early life that leaves some impression on the face.”

The scientists found no correlation between facial features and social status in later life. Prof. Tim Bates, who co-wrote the study, said… “a small link from parental status to facial symmetry doesn't mean people are trapped by their circumstances. Far from it - as shown by the high levels of mobility in society, not just people like Gordon Ramsay, but to lesser degrees by millions of people.” The link might explain why symmetrical faces are thought to be attractive. Lop-sided features may unconsciously signal that a person is less desirable as a mate, as stress in early life could leave them vulnerable to disease.

The study, published in the journal Economics and Human Biology, suggests that facial symmetry could be used with medical markers such as blood pressure to identify those who might be at an increased risk of illness.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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