Functional Inferences of Formidability Bias Perceptions of Mental Distress

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Humans infer men’s formidability through their facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR), subsequently eliciting perceptions of men’s capability to engage in aggressive physical conflict. Inferring formidable men as being particularly resistant to mental distress from physical conflict may pose downstream consequences, such as biasing mental health assessments that impede optimal treatment recommendations. Participants assessed potential mental distress of hypothetical military service members who varied in fWHR and indicated their willingness to assess and treat these symptoms. Formidable men were inferred as mentally tough, further biasing perceptions of them as not experiencing mental distress and not receiving subsequent care. We further replicated infrahumanization effects surrounding formidable men demonstrating individuals perceive them as less capable of feeling complex emotions, though treatment recommendations were driven by mental toughness perceptions rather than infrahumanization. Results are framed from an evolutionary perspective of affordance judgments. We discuss translational implications for clinical mental health.

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Evolutionary Psychological Sciences

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