Facial asymmetry is negatively related to condition in female macaque monkeys

Anthony C. Little, Annika Paukner, Ruth A. Woodward, Stephen J. Suomi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (SciVal)


The face is an important visual trait in social communication across many species. In evolutionary terms, there are large and obvious selective advantages in detecting healthy partners, both in terms of avoiding individuals with poor health to minimise contagion and in mating with individuals with high health to help ensure healthy offspring. Many models of sexual selection suggest that an individual's phenotype provides cues to their quality. Fluctuating asymmetry is a trait that is proposed to be an honest indicator of quality, and previous studies have demonstrated that rhesus monkeys gaze longer at symmetric faces, suggesting preferences for such faces. The current study examined the relationship between measured facial symmetry and measures of health in a captive population of female rhesus macaque monkeys. We measured asymmetry from landmarks marked on front-on facial photographs and computed measures of health based on veterinary health and condition ratings, number of minor and major wounds sustained and gain in weight over the first 4 years of life. Analysis revealed that facial asymmetry was negatively related to condition-related health measures, with symmetric individuals being healthier than more asymmetric individuals. Facial asymmetry appears to be an honest indicator of health in rhesus macaques, and asymmetry may then be used by conspecifics in mate-choice situations. More broadly, our data support the notion that faces are valuable sources of information in non-human primates and that sexual selection based on facial information is potentially important across the primate lineage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1311-1318
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


  • Asymmetry
  • Health
  • Measurements
  • Quality
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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