Human's cognitive ability to assess facial cues from photographs: A study of sexual selection in the Bolivian Amazon

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Abstract

Background: Evolutionary theory suggests that natural selection favors the evolution of cognitive abilities which allow humans to use facial cues to assess traits of others. The use of facial and somatic cues by humans has been studied mainly in western industrialized countries, leaving unanswered whether results are valid across cultures. Methodology/Principal Findings: Our objectives were to test (i) if previous finding about raters' ability to get accurate information about an individual by looking at his facial photograph held in low-income non western rural societies and (ii) whether women and men differ in this ability. To answer the questions we did a study during July-August 2007 among the Tsimané, a native Amazonian society of foragers-farmers in Bolivia. We asked 40 females and 40 males 16-25 years of age to rate four traits in 93 facial photographs of other Tsimané males. The four traits were based on sexual selection theory, and included health, dominance, knowledge, and sociability. The rating scale for each trait ranged from one (least) to four (most). The average rating for each trait was calculated for each individual in the photograph and regressed against objective measures of the trait from the person in the photograph. We found that (i) female Tsimané raters were able to assess facial cues related to health, dominance, and knowledge and (ii) male Tsimané raters were able to assess facial cues related to dominance, knowledge, and sociability. Conclusions/Significance: Our results support the existence of a human ability to identify objective traits from facial cues, as suggested by evolutionary theory. © 2010 Undurraga et al.

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Undurraga, E. A., Eisenberg, D. T. A., Magvanjav, O., Wang, R., Leonard, W. R., McDade, T. W., … Godoy, R. A. (2010). Human’s cognitive ability to assess facial cues from photographs: A study of sexual selection in the Bolivian Amazon. PLoS ONE, 5(6), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0011027

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