Men's health * 50+ health * Mental wellbeing

Symmetrical faces in men linked to mental ability in old age

mirror mirror on the wall... May be due to genetic factors

Declining mental ability is one of the signs of ageing for many of us. A new study suggests that, for men at least, if you have a symmetrical face you are more likely to hang on to all your marbles as you grow old.

Because there is a link between people's mental and physical wellbeing as they age, with healthy bodies indeed producing healthy minds, it has long been proposed that there is a common underlying genetic reason for this.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have been studing the facial chacteristics of a group of Scottish people to look for ways in which this common cause can be identified.

By looking at the facial symmetry of the group and relating it to IQ at various ages the scientists discovered that for men aged between 79 and 83 those with symmetrical faces had better mental abilities than other men of the same age.

This link was not apparent at any other age.

One possible explanation for this surprising link is that a symmetrical appearance is an indicator of genetic fitness - the body's way of advertising its potential to produce healthy offspring. This is perhaps why the link was not seen in woman - women are selecting the men based on how they look and this is linked to mental health.

Attractive people often have symmetrical faces, and this may be part of the explanation for the men's ability to retain mental function into old age.

Leader of the study, Lars Penke said. "Statistically, it's strongly significant with facial symmetry explaining about 10 per cent of the cognitive differences for that age group. And although we haven't found the single factor that explains cognitive decline in old age, it's one of the better predictors of it."

Have fun with faces

Create an average face, upload your own pictures, participate in face based experiments here

This article was published on Tue 11 August 2009

Image © Mark Stout -

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