Does skull shape mediate the relationship between objective features and subjective impressions about the face
Abstract In our previous work, we described facial features associated with a successful recognition of the sex of the face ( Mareckova et al., 2011 ). These features were based on landmarks placed on the surface of faces reconstructed from magnetic resonance (MR) images; their position was therefore influenced by both soft tissue (fat and muscle) and bone structure of the skull. Here, we ask whether bone structure has dissociable influences on observers' identification of the sex of the face. To answer this question, we used a novel method of studying skull morphology using MR images and explored the relationship between skull features, facial features, and sex recognition in a large sample of adolescents (n = 876; including 475 adolescents from our original report). To determine whether skull features mediate the relationship between facial features and identification accuracy, we performed mediation analysis using bootstrapping. In males, skull features mediated fully the relationship between facial features and sex judgments. In females, the skull mediated this relationship only after adjusting facial features for the amount of body fat (estimated with bioimpedance). While body fat had a very slight positive influence on correct sex judgments about male faces, there was a robust negative influence of body fat on the correct sex judgments about female faces. Overall, these results suggest that craniofacial bone structure is essential for correct sex judgments about a male face. In females, body fat influences negatively the accuracy of sex judgments, and craniofacial bone structure alone cannot explain the relationship between facial features and identification of a face as female.