Perception of strength, attractiveness and aggressiveness of Maasai male faces calibrated to handgrip strength: Evidence from a European sample

Sonja Windhager, Theresa Ottendorfer, Audax Mabulla, Marina Butovskaya, Bernhard Fink, Katrin Schaefer

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


Objectives: Previous research showed that male and female members of the Maasai from Northern Tanzania judge images of facial morphs calibrated to greater handgrip strength (HGS) higher on strength and attractiveness, but lower on aggressiveness than those calibrated to lower HGS. The accurate assessment of male physical strength from facial information may be adaptive as suggested by the evidence on health and fitness-related benefits linked to high muscular strength. Methods: This study extends previous work by obtaining European female (n = 220) and male (n = 51) assessments of HGS-calibrated Maasai male faces. Participants rated five facial morphs for strength, attractiveness, and aggressiveness on computer screens. Results: Perceived physical strength increased with morphs calibrated to higher HGS. The lowest and highest HGS morphs were judged lower in attractiveness than the others, and rated aggressiveness decreased in morphs calibrated to higher HGS. Conclusions: Given the high similarity between the current study findings and those previously reported from intra-population assessments of Maasai faces calibrated to HGS, we suggest that strength and aggressiveness perceptions of facial features associated with male physical strength may be universal. Attractiveness assessments of strength-related information in the faces of (very) strong men were less consistent across populations, possibly attributable to cultural and ecological contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23869
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number6
Early online date24 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 106018 Human biology
  • 106056 Biological anthropology

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