Behavior Genetics

, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 270–281 | Cite as

Estimating the Sex-Specific Effects of Genes on Facial Attractiveness and Sexual Dimorphism

  • Dorian G. Mitchem
  • Alicia M. Purkey
  • Nicholas M. Grebe
  • Gregory Carey
  • Christine E. Garver-Apgar
  • Timothy C. Bates
  • Rosalind Arden
  • John K. Hewitt
  • Sarah E. Medland
  • Nicholas G. Martin
  • Brendan P. Zietsch
  • Matthew C. Keller
Original Research


Human facial attractiveness and facial sexual dimorphism (masculinity–femininity) are important facets of mate choice and are hypothesized to honestly advertise genetic quality. However, it is unclear whether genes influencing facial attractiveness and masculinity–femininity have similar, opposing, or independent effects across sex, and the heritability of these phenotypes is poorly characterized. To investigate these issues, we assessed facial attractiveness and facial masculinity–femininity in the largest genetically informative sample (n = 1,580 same- and opposite-sex twin pairs and siblings) to assess these questions to date. The heritability was ~0.50–0.70 for attractiveness and ~0.40–0.50 for facial masculinity–femininity, indicating that, despite ostensible selection on genes influencing these traits, substantial genetic variation persists in both. Importantly, we found evidence for intralocus sexual conflict, whereby alleles that increase masculinity in males have the same effect in females. Additionally, genetic influences on attractiveness were shared across the sexes, suggesting that attractive fathers tend to have attractive daughters and attractive mothers tend to have attractive sons.


Facial attractiveness Masculinity–femininity Mate choice Sexual selection Intralocus sexual conflict Evolutionary genetics Twin and family studies Sex limitation 



This work was supported by grants from the Australian Research Council (A79600334, A79801419, and DP0212016) and the National Institute of Mental Health (MH085812 and MH63207). Thanks to Marlene Grace, Ann Eldridge, Daniel Park, and David Smyth for their work with the Australian Twin Registry; to the professional research assistants at the Center on Antisocial Drug Dependence for their work with the Longitudinal Twin Study; and to the volunteer research assistants who assigned trait ratings. Thanks to Steven W. Gangestad, Margaret J. Wright, and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper. And, thanks to the Australian Twin Registry and Colorado Twin Registry twins and their families for their continued participation.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 95 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorian G. Mitchem
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alicia M. Purkey
    • 1
  • Nicholas M. Grebe
    • 3
  • Gregory Carey
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christine E. Garver-Apgar
    • 4
  • Timothy C. Bates
    • 5
  • Rosalind Arden
    • 6
  • John K. Hewitt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sarah E. Medland
    • 7
  • Nicholas G. Martin
    • 7
  • Brendan P. Zietsch
    • 7
    • 8
  • Matthew C. Keller
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Behavioral GeneticsUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  6. 6.Institute of PsychiatryKing’s CollegeLondonUK
  7. 7.QIMR Berghofer Medical Research InstituteBrisbaneAustralia
  8. 8.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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