Perception of health from facial cues

Audrey Joan Henderson, Iris Jasmin Holzleitner, Sean N. Talamas, David Ian Perrett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Impressions of health are integral to social interactions, yet poorly understood. A review of the literature reveals multiple facial characteristics that potentially act as cues to health judgements. The cues vary in their stability across time: structural shape cues including symmetry and sexual dimorphism alter slowly across the lifespan and have been found to have weak links to actual health, but show inconsistent effects on perceived health. Facial adiposity changes over a medium time course and is associated with both perceived and actual health. Skin colour alters over a short time and has strong effects on perceived health, yet links to health outcomes have barely been evaluated. Reviewing suggested an additional influence of demeanour as a perceptual cue to health. We, therefore, investigated the association of health judgements with multiple facial cues measured objectively from two-dimensional and three-dimensional facial images. We found evidence for independent contributions of face shape and skin colour cues to perceived health. Our empirical findings: (i) reinforce the role of skin yellowness; (ii) demonstrate the utility of global face shape measures of adiposity; and (iii) emphasize the role of affect in facial images with nominally neutral expression in impressions of health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20150380
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1693
Early online date11 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2016


  • Perceived health
  • Cues
  • Faces
  • Adiposity
  • Expression
  • Skin colour


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