Geometric morphometrics is a fairly recent development in modern shape analysis. This suite of methods allows, for the first time, to preserve the whole geometry of facial measurements throughout a statistical analysis. This renders possible straight answers to complicated questions, such as: Which facial shape pattern is associated with a certain hormone level, and which facial features exactly determine a certain rating of appearance? And more importantly, what do these patterns have in common? Answers to these questions provide a bridge between physical anthropology and evolutionary psychology. This talk presents a summary of geometric morphometric methods including the concept of psychomorphospace, followed by a series of studies that exemplify how this novel approach systematically tests long pending issues in face research. Two of these issues involve determinants of human facial shape variation (prenatal testosterone exposure, physical strength), and another two the determinants of shape that lead to face-like interpretations. Major findings presented are that, against previous hypotheses, facial correlates of prenatal testosterone exposure can be identified before male puberty. Second, facial shape features associated with physical strength in adult men are more closely related to those corresponding to perceived masculinity and dominance than to attractiveness. Third, I show that these trait attributions are generalized to inanimate objects with the same shape patterns. Last but not least, an outlook on ongoing research in which geometric morphometrics is a powerful promoter in the synthesis of biological anthropology and psychological disciplines concerned with facial sexual dimorphism will be given.
Sonja Windhager is currently a fellow at the KLI. She holds a Master of Science and a PhD in biology from the University of Vienna. She completed her PhD in anthropology and is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna. Her research mainly focuses on biological causes of human facial shape variation and their effects on interpersonal perception.