The face of female dominance: Women with dominant faces have lower cortisol

Isaac Gonzalez-Santoyo, John R. Wheatley, Lisa L.M. Welling, Rodrigo A. Cárdenas, Francisco Jimenez-Trejo, Khytam Dawood, David A. Puts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The human face displays a wealth of information, including information about dominance and fecundity. Dominance and fecundity are also associated with lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, suggesting that cortisol may negatively predict facial dominance and attractiveness. We digitally photographed 61 women's faces, had these images rated by men and women for dominance, attractiveness, and femininity, and explored relationships between these perceptions and women's salivary cortisol concentrations. In a first study, we found that women with more dominant-appearing, but not more attractive, faces had lower cortisol levels. These associations were not due to age, ethnicity, time since waking, testosterone, or its interaction with cortisol. In a second study, composite images of women with low cortisol were perceived as more dominant than those of women with high cortisol significantly more often than chance by two samples of viewers, with a similar but non-significant trend in a third sample. However, data on perceptions of attractiveness were mixed; low-cortisol images were viewed as more attractive by two samples of US viewers and as less attractive by a sample of Mexican viewers. Our results suggest that having a more dominant-appearing face may be associated with lower stress and hence lower cortisol in women, and provide further evidence regarding the information content of the human face.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-21
Number of pages6
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - May 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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