Background. In recent years, researchers have investigated the relationship between facial width-to-height ratio (FWHR) and a variety of threat and dominance behaviours. The majority of methods involved measuring FWHR from 2D photographs of faces. However, individuals can vary dramatically in their appearance across images, which poses an obvious problem for reliable FWHR measurement.
Methods. I compared the effect sizes due to the differences between images taken with unconstrained camera parameters (Studies 1 and 2) or varied facial expressions (Study 3) to the effect size due to identity, i.e., the differences between people. In Study 1, images of Hollywood actors were collected from film screenshots, providing the least amount of experimental control. In Study 2, controlled photographs, which only varied in focal length and distance to camera, were analysed. In Study 3, images of different facial expressions, taken in controlled conditions, were measured.
Results. Analyses revealed that simply varying the focal length and distance between the camera and face had a relatively small effect on FWHR, and therefore may prove less of a problem if uncontrolled in study designs. In contrast, when all camera parameters (including the camera itself) are allowed to vary, the effect size due to identity was greater than the effect of image selection, but the ranking of the identities was significantly altered by the particular image used. Finally, I found significant changes to FWHR when people posed with four of seven emotional expressions in comparison with neutral, and the effect size due to expression was larger than differences due to identity.
Discussion. The results of these three studies demonstrate that even when head pose is limited to forward facing, changes to the camera parameters and a person’s facial expression have sizable effects on FWHR measurement. Therefore, analysing images that fail to constrain some of these variables can lead to noisy and unreliable results, but also relationships caused by previously unconsidered confounds.