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KLI Colloquia
Psychomorphospace: An Instrument to Explain First Impressions by Biological Causes of Facial Shape Variation
Katrin SCHAEFER (University of Vienna)
2016-09-15 16:30 - 2016-09-15 18:00
Organized by KLI

Topic description:
Several disciplines share an interest in the evolutionary selection pressures that shaped human physical functioning and appearance, psyche, and behavior. In this talk, I present an exciting synergy between physical anthropology, human behavior, and (evolutionary) psychology. As evolutionary theory explicitly places facial form in the middle of a causal chain as the mediating variable between biological causes and psychological effects, a particularly convenient conceptual and analytic scenario arises: Modern morphometrics allows the analysis of shape both “backwards” (by regressions on biology) and “forwards” (via predictions of psychology). This way, one can quantify and isolate those facial shape characteristics that lead to aesthetic and other judgments and directly compare them to the effects of physical processes (e.g., age, BMI, hormones, etc.) on biological form. The presented results are based on standardized photographs of adult and children faces, and on car fronts. We identified the covariation of shape with physical measures and ratings using (a) regression analyses with single predictors and (b) multifactorial approaches. Thin-plate spline deformation grids and unwarped and averaged images (GM morphs) were used for visualization. Among the fascinating results were that adult male facial cues to masculinity and dominance are similar to facial shape patterns associated with prenatal (testosterone exposure) but not with salivary testosterone. First findings for children were even more surprising, and implications for education glaring. This approach encourages scrutinizing a wide range of predictions pertinent to the field of Darwinian aesthetics and impression formation. Indeed, it allows the exploration of any shape pattern at the intersection between form and perception whether or not the context is one of adaptive explanations.


Biographical note:
Katrin Schäfer is a behavioral anthropologist interested in the intersection of physical anthropology, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology. Her current research focuses on the study of causes and consequences of facial form variation using geometric morphometric methods. Katrin was born in Bremen, Germany, spent a year in community projects in Brazil, and then studied zoology, human biology and behavior at the University of Vienna, Austria. For her dissertation project at the LBI of Urban Ethology, Vienna, she worked on human social interactions in housing areas and public places, receiving her PhD degree in anthropology in 1997. In the course of her habilitation, she has started introducing geometric morphometric methods to behavioral studies and evolutionary anthropology, and was awarded with the venia legendi in anthropology in 2004. Since then, she has worked and published in areas spanning from urban ethology to primatology and paleoanthropology including ten years of annual fieldwork in Ethiopia, and heads the Vienna Surface Scanner lab. Katrin is currently holding a position as associate professor and vice-department chair at the Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna, and is a member of Board of Trustees of the National History Museum, Vienna.