Symmetric faces are a sign of successful cognitive aging

Lars Penke, Timothy C. Bates, Alan J. Gow, Alison Pattie, John M. Starr, Benedict C. Jones, David I. Perrett, Ian J. Deary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


It has been proposed that a common cause underlies individual differences in bodily and cognitive decline in old age. No good marker for this common cause has been identified to date. Here, fluctuating asymmetry (FA), an indicator of developmental stability that relates to intelligence differences in young adults, was measured from facial photographs of 216 surviving members of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921 at age 83 and related to their intelligence at ages 11, 79 and 83 years. FA at age 83 was unrelated to intelligence at ages 11 and 79 and to cognitive change between 11 and 79 years. It was, however, associated with intelligence and information processing efficiency at age 83 and with cognitive change between 79 and 83 years. Significant results were limited to men, a result predicted by sex differences in life history tradeoffs and life expectancy. Results were stronger when directional asymmetries were corrected in facial FA measures. Thus, FA is a candidate marker for the common cause of differential senescence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-437
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009


  • cognitive aging
  • common cause hypothesis
  • facial fluctuating asymmetry
  • general intelligence
  • information processing speed
  • senescence


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