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B.C. researcher believes he's found the face that cheats

This Valentine's Day, consider that while adultery may start in the head, it's the face that could one day give it away.

Researchers studied the sex drives and willingness to cheat on a partner of 314 young adult subjects across Canada.

Peter Cade / Getty Images

Researchers studied the sex drives and willingness to cheat on a partner of 314 young adult subjects across Canada.

"Where cheating is," the poet William Blake observed, "there is mischief there."

But according to a researcher in British Columbia, it appears that where cheating is there might just be a short, wider-than-usual face.

Simon Fraser University psychologist Brian Bird's team of academics at several universities studied the sex drives and willingness to cheat on a partner of 314 young adult subjects across the country.

"We found that those with shorter and wider faces on the whole tend to have a higher sex drive," he told Metro in a phone interview, "and are more likely to report being willing to be unfaithful to their partner."

The idea that human personality traits could have a link to the shape of their face might sound far-fetched, and Bird admitted that 19th-century attempts to link things like criminality or aggression to skull shape were widely discredited.

However, about ten years ago researchers began to document correlations between aggressive, dominant behaviour and what they termed facial width-to-height ratio (FWHR). The ratio compares the widest point on the face to the distance from the upper lip to the eyebrows.

And it turns out that more aggressive or dominant people tend, on the whole, to have a higher ratio.

"It's all within an evolutionary framework where behaviours like dominance and aggression are thought to be adaptive in some form for seeking mates," Bird said. "So we thought sex drive and human mating psychology might also be important within that framework — but researchers haven't looked at that yet."

His team's study was published in Archives of Sexual Behavior journal, and was one of two papers with 145 and 314 subjects respectively at two Canadian universities.

"Sometimes these studies get blown out of proportion," Bird cautioned, "with people thinking you can look at your partner's face thinking, 'You're going to cheat.'

"But we're looking at a group-level analysis on the whole, and it's a small-effect size. It's not like 90 per cent of people with this face will cheat … but there may be a kernel of truth to something."

But why would wider, high-FWHR people tend to be more horny, unfaithful and aggressive?

"It's not clear what the mechanism is," Bird noted, "but one idea is during critical development periods, you have a rise or surge in testosterone, which can influence cranial facial growth and also neural circuitry that happens to relate to behaviour like aggression.

"But more works need to be done still … It needs replication and more work on the broader population."

But this Valentine's Day, consider that while adultery may start in the head, it's the face that could one day give it away.

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