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The facial width‐to‐height ratio determines interpersonal distance preferences in the observer

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Aggressive Behavior

Published online on


Facial width‐to‐height ratio (fWHR) is correlated with a number of aspects of aggressive behavior in men. Observers appear to be able to assess aggressiveness from male fWHR, but implications for interpersonal distance preferences have not yet been determined. This study utilized a novel computerized stop‐distance task to examine interpersonal space preferences of female participants who envisioned being approached by a man; men's faces photographed posed in neutral facial expressions were shown in increasing size to mimic approach. We explored the effect of the men's fWHR, their behavioral aggression (measured previously in a computer game), and women's ratings of the men's aggressiveness, attractiveness, and masculinity on the preferred interpersonal distance of 52 German women. Hierarchical linear modelling confirmed the relationship between the fWHR and trait judgements (ratings of aggressiveness, attractiveness, and masculinity). There were effects of fWHR and actual aggression on the preferred interpersonal distance, even when controlling statistically for men's and the participants’ age. Ratings of attractiveness, however, was the most influential variable predicting preferred interpersonal distance. Our results extend earlier findings on fWHR as a cue of aggressiveness in men by demonstrating implications for social interaction. In conclusion, women are able to accurately detect aggressiveness in emotionally neutral facial expressions, and adapt their social distance preferences accordingly.