Men’s looks may not be what they seem at first

A man who looks mean and untrustworthy may have a hero hidden within.

Psychologists from St Andrew’s University in Scotland have shown that men with “dominant” wide faces are perceived as aggressive and dishonest – but sometimes it might pay not to judge a book by its cover.

They found that “macho” wider-faced men were more likely to sacrifice their own needs for the benefit of the group.

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Students taking part in the study were given money to play a gambling game. They had to choose between either benefiting themselves or risking losing money to boost the fortunes of everyone.

Wider-faced men sacrificed their own gains to benefit the group – but only when they thought they were competing with students from a rival university.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Stirrat said: “Dominant looking men – typically characterised by wide faces – are often portrayed as ‘bad to the bone’, but we wondered whether the relationship between facial width and personality was really so simple. We suspected that men who look aggressive and untrustworthy might actually be good guys in some contexts.”

The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, support recent findings linking the facial width of company chief executives with business performance, and of male presidential candidates with drive for achievement.

Compared with women, men seemed more sensitive to intergroup relationships, said the researchers. They added that while dominant males may show negative forms of masculine behaviour, such as physical aggression, they are also more likely to make sacrifices for groups they belong to.