Not Just a Pretty Face: Intelligence Perceived in Males and Not Females

male face


A study at Charles University, Prague, has found that individuals can accurately assess the intelligence levels of men but are unable to accurately detect the same trait in women.

The human face is complex and able to communicate the nature of our sex, health, ethnicity, social rank, attractiveness, political affiliation, and now even the intelligence of the bearer is up for reckoning –  but only if they are male.

According to research, human beings have the most well-developed facial structures. In terms of communication, no other mammalian species can match the expressive function of the human face.

Male and female faces

Researchers used static facial photographs of 40 men and 40 women to test the relationship between measured IQ, perceived intelligence, and facial shape.

Men and women were both able to evaluate the intelligence of men by viewing their facial shape but were both unable to detect the same trait in women.

Researchers used geometric morphometrics – meaning form and measure, the qualitative measurement of form – to determine the facial traits associated with the perception of intelligence, as well as those features that are aligned with actual intelligence, as measured by IQ testing.


Facial signs of intelligence

According to the findings, faces perceived as highly intelligent are:

  •  more prolonged
  • have a broader distance between the eyes
  • a larger nose
  • a slight upturn to the corners of the mouth
  • a sharper, pointing, less rounded chin.


Facial signs of lower intelligence

The perception of lower intelligence is associated with the following traits:

  • broader, more rounded faces
  • eyes closer to each other
  • shorter nose
  • declining corners of the mouth
  • a rounded and massive chin


The ability to ‘read’ and ‘assess’ individuals intelligence is present in every day social interactions and, according to the researchers, has important evolutionary consequences.



A perceiver can accurately estimate the real intelligence of men but not women when viewing photographs of faces. However, the facial clues that indicate intelligence in males do not act as reliable indicators for actual IQ. The clues were only indicators of PERCEIVED intelligence, and not actual intelligence.  A researcher commented:

“This means that our raters accurately assessed intelligence from faces of men based on visual cues that simply are not explicable from shape variability in men’s faces,”


Why does perceived intelligence reflect measured intelligence in men but not women?

Three reasons were considered for the discrepancy between perceiving male and female intelligence:


  • One possible explanation is that cues of higher intelligence are sexually dimorphic (different in men and women) and are thus apparent only in men’s faces, e.g. due to some genetic and developmental association to sex steroid hormonal agents during puberty.
  • Another option is that women are pervasively judged according to their attractiveness. The strong halo effect of attractiveness may thus prevent an accurate assessment of the intelligence of women.
  • The third possible explanation is that facial indicators of intelligence are signals rather than cues and that the honest signalling of intelligence is adaptive for men but not for women.


The correlation between these geometric traits and perceived attractiveness suggests there is an intelligence stereotype.

“These faces of supposed high and low intelligence probably represent nothing more than a cultural stereotype because these morphological traits do not correlate with the real intelligence of the subjects,” the researchers said.
Plos One: Perceived Intelligence Is Associated with Measured Intelligence in Men but Not Women