In the journal Economics and Human Biology, Scottish researchers from the University of Edinburgh reported that the symmetry of an adult’s face could disclose much about their childhood. Using 15 different facial features, the authors discovered that those who had more complicated and deprived childhoods tended to have more asymmetrical faces.
According to authors, childhood exposure to factors such as tobacco smoke, pollution exposure, nutrition, childhood socioeconomic status, and illness can have an impact on a person’s facial features.
The facial features of people do not seem to be affected by their socioeconomic factors during adulthood. Compared to individuals with fortunate childhoods who later became poor, those who are rich now but were traumatized by a deprived childhood tended to have more asymmetrical facial features.
This could pretty well explain the characteristic asymmetrical features of certain celebrities, such as Gordon Ramsay, who had a deprived childhood regardless of having mounted up riches in adult life.
Senior researcher, Professor Ian Deary, said, “Symmetry in the face is thought to be a marker of what is called developmental stability – the body’s ability to withstand environmental stressors and not be knocked off its developmental path. We wondered whether facial symmetry would faintly record either the stressors in early life, which we though might be especially important, or the total accumulated effects of stressors through the lifecourse. The results indicated that it is deprivation in early life that leaves some impression on the face. The association is not very strong, meaning that other things also affect facial symmetry too.”
Researchers inspected the facial features of 292 individuals of the 1921 Lothian Birth Cohort, a study that tracks individuals throughout their lives. All participants were examined for facial symmetry at the age of 83 and were assessed for bodily symmetry at the age of 87.
Researchers accumulated data on the participants’ facial symmetry, childhood socioeconomic status, and their standing at midlife.
The positioning of the ears, mouth, nose, and eyes comprised the 15 facial “landmarks” identified by researchers. Childhood socioeconomic status of participants was assessed by gathering information on the number of members in the house, the facility of an indoor or outdoor toilet, parents’ jobs, etc.
Researchers established that male facial symmetry was strongly associated with the social status during their childhood, which implied that adults with more symmetrical faces had a more comfortable upbringing.
Although similar associations were seen in females, they were not as prominent as those seen in males. Professor Tim Bates added, “A small link from parental status to facial symmetry doesn’t mean people are trapped by their circumstances. Far from it – as shown by the high levels of mobility in society, not just people like Gordon Ramsay, but to lesser degrees by millions of people.”
To conclude, the authors said, “. . . . However, markers of childhood disturbance remain many decades later, suggesting that early development may account in part for associations between SES and health through the lifecourse. Future research should clarify which elements of the environment cause these perturbations.”