Human perception of fighting ability: facial cues predict winners and losers in mixed martial arts fights

Anthony C. Little, Vít Třebický, Jan Havlíček, S. Craig Roberts, Karel Kleisner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (SciVal)


In antagonistic encounters, the primary decision to be made is to fight or not. Animals may then possess adaptations to assess fighting ability in their opponents. Previous studies suggest that humans can assess strength and fighting ability based on facial appearance. Here we extend these findings to specific contests by examining the perception of male faces from paired winners and losers of individual fights in mixed martial arts sporting competitions. Observers, unfamiliar with the outcome, were presented with image pairs and asked to choose which of the 2 men was more likely to win if they fought while other observers chose between the faces based on masculinity, strength, aggressiveness, and attractiveness. We found that individuals performed at rates above chance in correctly selecting the winner as more likely to win the fight than the loser. We also found that winners were seen to be more masculine, stronger, and more aggressive than losers. Finally, women saw the winners as more attractive than the losers. Together these findings demonstrate that 1) humans can predict the outcome of specific fighting contests based on facial cues, 2) perceived masculinity and strength are putative cues to fighting success available from faces, and 3) facial cues associated with successful male-male competition are attractive to women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1470-1475
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2015


  • competition
  • face appearance
  • fighting
  • intrasexual
  • violence


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