Fluctuating asymmetry and sexual dimorphism in human facial morphology: A multi-variate study

Omid Ekrami, Peter Claes, Ellen Van Assche, Mark D. Shriver, Seth M. Weinberg, Mary L. Marazita, Susan Walsh, Stefan Van Dongen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


(1) Background: Fluctuating asymmetry is often used as an indicator of developmental instability, and is proposed as a signal of genetic quality. The display of prominent masculine phe-notypic features, which are a direct result of high androgen levels, is also believed to be a sign of genetic quality, as these hormones may act as immunosuppressants. Fluctuating asymmetry and masculinity are therefore expected to covary. However, there is lack of strong evidence in the literature regarding this hypothesis. (2) Materials and methods: In this study, we examined a large da-taset of high-density 3D facial scans of 1260 adults (630 males and 630 females). We mapped a high-density 3D facial mask onto the facial scans in order to obtain a high number of quasi-landmarks on the faces. Multi-dimensional measures of fluctuating asymmetry were extracted from the landmarks using Principal Component Analysis, and masculinity/femininity scores were obtained for each face using Partial Least Squares. The possible correlation between these two qualities was then examined using Pearson’s coefficient and Canonical Correlation Analysis. (3) Results: We found no correlation between fluctuating asymmetry and masculinity in men. However, a weak but signifi-cant correlation was found between average fluctuating asymmetry and masculinity in women, in which feminine faces had higher levels of fluctuating asymmetry on average. This correlation could possibly point to genetic quality as an underlying mechanism for both asymmetry and masculinity; however, it might also be driven by other fitness or life history traits, such as fertility. (4) Conclu-sions: Our results question the idea that fluctuating asymmetry and masculinity should be (more strongly) correlated in men, which is in line with the recent literature. Future studies should possibly focus more on the evolutionary relevance of the observed correlation in women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number304
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Mathematics(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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