Could you tell by looking at his face that Arnold Schwarzenegger had been unfaithful? What about David Beckham? Deceit isn't always sexually motivated: James Murdoch is now accused of misremembering e-mail exchanges in the ongoing phone-hacking scandal. Instead of calling him back to the British Parliament to quiz him again, would it be easier to study the jawline of Murdoch junior?
Perhaps, according to research presented by experimental psychologists at a meeting of the Human Behaviour and Evolution Society in Montpellier, France, held this month. The flourishing science of the face suggests our visages contain overt clues to our veracity, and that there is such a thing as plain honesty. In one study, conducted by Achim Schuetzwohl and colleagues from Brunel University, 39 men were asked to look at photographs of Caucasian female students to judge whether these women had cheated on their partners (some of the pictured women had already admitted their infidelity). The pictures were standardized - the women wore no make-up and the same facial expression. The men, unaware of the women's sexual history, rated the women for both attractiveness and their proneness to infidelity. To the researchers' astonishment, the men were able to discriminate between the faithful and cheating women by gazing at their faces for just one second!
Why would this be? Evolutionary theory suggests it is adaptive for men to know whether a potential partner is prone to infidelity, given the costs of "cuckolding" (raising children who might not be biologically theirs, and thus not continuing their genetic line). But, equally, would it not serve the evolutionary interests of women to signal to potential husbands that they will be faithful even though they might not be? This is true, of course, but given the significant evolutionary costs of cuckolding, the male judges appear to have an edge in this evolutionary arms race. So, it appears, your face gives away whether you are prone to cheating in a relationship.
In another study presented at the same conference, conducted by Toko Kiyonari and colleagues in Japan, 73 individuals who had cheated in a monetary game (they had taken more than their fair share) were then given a financial incentive to play honestly. A whole bunch of observers (503 students from different universities in Japan) were asked if they could tell the difference, just by looking, between the cheaters and the honest players. They could, but only if they watched videos of players' faces expressing their thoughts on a story they'd read. So our ability to detect the dishonest is enhanced if we can study their natural facial expressions.
Indeed, a classic study by Robert Frank showed that after five minutes of face-to-face communication, people can pretty much accurately guess who they could trust the contents of their wallets to. The answer? Go for the smiling faces because, as Astrid Hopfensitz and colleagues from Toulose University in France showed at the same conference, smiley types tend to be trustworthy types.
So the science of the face is moving fast and it has some real-life implications. Thinking about a face-lift? Well, consider your evolutionary goals and motives. If you are a male seeking one-night stands, then opt for the masculine prototype face (strong jaw lines, small eyes). If you are looking for a long-term relationship, then ask the surgeon for a more feminine face (women looking for a long-term partner actually stare at the more feminine male faces while ignoring the masculine faces). And, if you want people to trust you with their wallet, then flash them a smile.