It's easier to read mens' faces — here's how you can determine if he's cheated

1,500 study participants play Spot the Cheater

It's easier to read mens' faces — here's how you can determine if he's cheated
Image source: Anetlanda/Shutterstock
  • Male philanderers faces give them away slightly more often than female faces do.
  • Study tests idea of being able to spot competition as an evolutionary aid to protecting our relationships.
  • The most reliable — though not very reliable — cue is sexual dimorphism.

It's become a standard TV and movie trope. One friend looks at another and suddenly blurts out, "You just got some!" In real life, though, it's not so easy to tell, apparently. This goes double for cheaters, even if you might think you can just look at someone's face and know if they're unfaithful — it's fun to make snap judgements and talk trash, right?

Researchers from the University of Western Australia wanted to know just how good people are at keeping their little secret a secret, and have published the results of their study in the journal Royal Society Open Science. It turns out that it's hard to tell if someone's cheating or ready to poach your partner based on their appearance alone. If you can tell, though, it's more likely you're looking at a man — women's faces are even harder to read.

189 possibly faithful people scrutinized

The researchers recruited 1,500 heterosexual white participants and asked them to fill out questionnaires in which they picked out the cheaters from 189 photographs — 101 men and 88 women, each of whom had let the researchers in on whether or not they'd been philandering. The participants also answered some questions to help the researchers understand each their reasons for tagging a photo model as a cheater.

The study cites previous research that suggests that "women, and to a lesser degree, men, show above-chance accuracy in judging sexual unfaithfulness from opposite-sex faces." This conclusion was borne out in the new study, though this wasn't the main objective.

One aspect of protecting one's relationship is the ability to spot competitors, and so the new research looked at our ability to spot a tendency toward infidelity in same-sex candidates who might poach our partners.

Image source: View Apart/Shutterstock

Good guesses, bad guesses

It turned out that men and women were both more accurate with their judgement of men's faces when it came to spotting a likelihood of cheating or poaching. Women's faces, on the other hand, pretty much baffled everyone. In terms of detecting same-sex cheaters, men did better identifying untrustworthy men than women did spotting female philanderesses. "We found very little evidence of any accuracy in impressions of faithfulness from women's faces," says the study.

Still, we're not so good at this game overall, it turns out. The study finds, "Even though accuracy for men's faces was statistically significant, the level of accuracy was modest at best." Over 80% of participants exhibited a less-than-chance accuracy level in their conclusions. For men's faces, only 14.1 to 18.0% of participants did better than chance. For women's faces, the percentage of good guessers was even lower: 0.9 to 4.0%.

Image source: pathdoc/Shutterstock

Visual cues that affected opinions and how useful they were

The researchers asked participants about the importance of three characteristics as cues of unfaithfulness:

  • sexual dimorphism — essentially the physical size of the person being judged
  • attractiveness — the visual appeal of the person's face
  • untrustworthiness — whether or not the face simply looked untreatable

All three led participants to decide a man was likely to be a cheater or poacher. In assessing women, attractiveness and trustworthiness were factors.

As to whether these three indicators were of any use assessing a propensity for infidelity or poaching, the story was a bit different.

"The face plays an important role in human mate choice as a signal of various aspects of quality, including genetic quality, diet, fertility, aggressiveness, and parental care," says the study. Nonetheless, attractiveness turned out not to have been a reliable indicator of cheating in the study's data. According to the the photo models' self-reporting, good-looking people were no more likely to be unfaithful than others.

As it turns out, only dimorphism accurately indicated mate cheating/poaching.

Image source: from study

And so?

The study concludes, "In summary, our results suggest that there might be some kernel of truth in impressions of unfaithfulness from men's faces. This above-chance accuracy for men's faces is consistent with the evolutionary prediction that accuracy in our judgements of unfaithfulness from strangers' faces might represent an evolved adaptation for identifying potential male cheaters/poachers." At the same time, the high level of inaccuracy means — in a devastating blow to trash-talking — "we should not rely on our first impressions to make diagnostic judgements of unfaithfulness in everyday situations."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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