The Height-Weight Illusion. Why do we often look fat on unprofessional/unstandardized photos?

Being able to exploit features of the human face to predict health and fitness can serve as an evolutionary advantage. Surface features such as facial symmetry, averageness, and skin colour are known to influence attractiveness. We sought to determine whether observers are able to extract more complex features, namely body weight. If possible, it could be used as a predictor for health and fitness. For instance, facial adiposity could be taken to indicate a cardiovascular challenge or proneness to infections. Observers seem to be able to glean body weight information from frontal views of a face. Is weight estimation robust across different viewing angles? We showed that participants strongly overestimated body weight for faces photographed from a lower vantage point while underestimating it for faces photographed from a higher vantage point. The perspective distortions of simple facial measures (eg width-to-height ratio) that accompany changes in vantage point do not suffice to predict body weight. Instead, more complex patterns must be involved in the height - weight illusion.

Height-Weight Illusion

  • Schneider, T. M., Hecht, H., & Carbon, C. C. (2012). Judging body weight from faces: The height-weight illusion. Perception, 41(1), 121-124.

  • Schneider, T. M., Hecht, H., & Carbon, C. C. (2011). Losing weight without dieting: viewpoint-dependent weight assessment on basis of faces. Poster presentation. 34th European Conference on Visual Perception (ECVP), Toulouse/France (28.08.-01.09.2011).