If the song It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy taught us anything, it’s that men really suck at hiding their infidelity. Unfortunately for guys, it isn’t just their poor excuses that give away their cheating ways, it’s practically written all over their faces like red lipstick on a white collar.
Reporting in the journal Royal Society Open Science, psychologists have found that both men and women are reasonably good at guessing whether a man has a propensity for cheating on their partner or “poaching” others' partners. However, people are not nearly as accurate at predicting whether a woman is a would-be philanderer.
Researchers from the University of Western Australia rounded up 1,500 heterosexual white people and showed them images of over 180 people, 101 men and 88 women, who had self-reported whether they had ever been unfaithful. The participants were then given a questionnaire that asked them how likely they thought each person was to cheat.
The results showed that the participants reached accurate judgments on 14 to 18 percent of men's faces, but just 0.9 to 4 percent of women's faces. Interestingly, there was also an above-average accuracy for men rating men's faces, but not for women rating women's faces.
"We found that both men and women showed accuracy in judging men's, but not women's, faces, suggesting that it is sex of the face rather than the rater that matters," the study authors write.
The giveaway might have something to do with faces that are perceived to be more masculine, an attribute the study describes as "a well-established signal of propensity to adopt short-term mating strategies." On the other hand, a more feminine appearance did not seem to correlate with unfaithfulness.
Participants also wrongly assumed better-looking men would be more unfaithful, even though the statistics said otherwise.
“The face plays an important role in human mate choice as a signal of various aspects of quality, including genetic quality, diet, fertility, aggressiveness, and parental care," the study reads. "Recent studies suggest that our faces might also provide signals to unfaithfulness and that we possess some level of accuracy in judging unfaithfulness from opposite-sex faces.”
However, remember what your grandmother taught you; you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover. Although it might be easier to pick up on in men, the results show we are generally pretty bad at guessing whether someone has cheated on a partner just by glancing at their face.
"If we are to rely solely on our first impressions to detect cheaters/poachers, then we will make substantial errors,” Yong Zhi Foo, one of the study’s authors, told AFP.
"Our results must not be taken to mean that first impressions can be used in any everyday situations," he added.