Facial masculinity has been considered a sexual ornament in humans, akin to peacock tails and stag antlers. Recently, studies have questioned the once-popular view that facial masculinity is a condition-dependent male ornament signaling immunocompetence (the immunocompetence handicap hypothesis). We sought to rigorously test these ideas using high-resolution phenotypic (3D facial images) and genetic data in the largest sample to date. We found no support for the immunocompetence handicap hypothesis of facial masculinity in humans. Our findings add to a growing body of evidence challenging a popular viewpoint in the field and highlight the need for a deeper understanding of the genetic and environmental factors underlying variation in facial masculinity and human sexual dimorphism more broadly.Abstract
Recent studies have called into question the idea that facial masculinity is a condition-dependent male ornament that indicates immunocompetence in humans. We add to this growing body of research by calculating an objective measure of facial masculinity/femininity using 3D images in a large sample (n = 1,233) of people of European ancestry. We show that facial masculinity is positively correlated with adult height in both males and females. However, facial masculinity scales with growth similarly in males and females, suggesting that facial masculinity is not exclusively a male ornament, as male ornaments are typically more sensitive to growth in males compared with females. Additionally, we measured immunocompetence via heterozygosity at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a widely-used genetic marker of immunity. We show that, while height is positively correlated with MHC heterozygosity, facial masculinity is not. Thus, facial masculinity does not reflect immunocompetence measured by MHC heterozygosity in humans. Overall, we find no support for the idea that facial masculinity is a condition-dependent male ornament that has evolved to indicate immunocompetence.