All good kids are taught to “never judge a book by its cover”…

…but according to new research published in Biology Letters, there may be important clues in the structure of our faces after all.

Hikaru Tsujimura and Michael J. Banissy at the University of London investigated the effects of facial width-to-height ratios (fWHRs) on batting performance in Japanese baseball players. Your fWHR is high if your face is as wide as it is tall – this facial trait has been linked in other studies to increased aggression, achievement drive, and winning mentality relative to peers with low fWHRs. One paper showed that CEOs with high fWHRs achieved superior financial performance within their firms – “A face only an investor could love”!

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(image from a study on how width-to-height ratios affect perception of aggression and femininity)

Unsurprisingly,Tsujimura and Banissy’s hypothesis was that they expected to see a correlation between fWHR and batting performance – and this is exactly what they found. Professional players with high fWHRs – in other words, wider faces – hit significantly more home runs over two seasons than their skinny-faced team-mates.

So, what’s driving this fascinating link between chunky cheekbones and sporting greatness? The authors suggest that the baseball prowess linked to wider faces is probably mediated by testosterone, which is known to have an effect on other, related traits such as  strength, and behavioural characteristics like aggression, boldness, and drive.

The literature on the connection between sporting achievement and testosterone (or at least, markers of testosterone, like digit ratios) is extensive. A particularly cool finding was that salivary levels of testosterone before football matches were higher in home teams, potentially explaining the well-known phenomenon of the “home advantage” – an evolutionary throw-back to caveman-like territoriality and the importance of being able to outcompete rivals on your home turf. However, work done at William and Mary back in 2002 showed that while faces indicating high levels of testosterone increased the perception of dominance, it had no effect on how attractive that face was to the opposite sex. Even for the sporting greats, it seems, you can’t win ’em all…

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