Maasai Identify Male Altruists by Facial Appearance



In this experimental study, we continue investigating an association between facial morphology and individual psychological characteristics. The study was conducted in the population of Maasai (Ngorongoro, Tanzania) in two stages during field trips in 2016 and 2021. At the first stage, we collected anthropological photo portraits from 305 individuals (123 women and 182 men) and interviewed them to identify the propensity to help others. Six generalized morphed portraits of Maasai (men and women) were created based on individual propensity to help. At the second stage of the study, portraits were presented to 200 Maasai, men and women from the same population. The portraits were evaluated according to the degree of expression of four qualities: physical strength, proneness to help others, a "good friend", and self-confidence. The results of the study revealed that representatives of the same population are able to distinguish altruistic men by their facial shape. Men who were prone to provide assistance to others were perceived as physically stronger. No such association was found for female portraits. The results are interpreted from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology.

General Information

Keywords: altruism, help, physical strength, gender differences, geometric morphometry, Maasai

Journal rubric: Face Science

Article type: scientific article


Funding. The study was carried out with the support of the grant of the Russian Science Foundation No. 18-18-00075.

Acknowledgements. The study was conducted with the permission of the Tanzania Science and Technology Commission, 2015-117-NA-2009-151, 2021-292-NA-2009-151. We are grateful to Ngorongoro Nature Conservation Area administrators for the permission to work in the park and constant assistance, as well as to all participants of the study for tolerance and friendly assistance in the process of work.

Received: 14.10.2022


For citation: Butovskaya M.L., Rostovtseva V.V., Mezentseva A.A., Mabulla A. Maasai Identify Male Altruists by Facial Appearance. Eksperimental'naâ psihologiâ = Experimental Psychology (Russia), 2023. Vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 7–18. DOI: 10.17759/exppsy.2023160301. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


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Information About the Authors

Marina L. Butovskaya, Doctor of History, Professor, Head of the Sector of Cross-Cultural Psychology and Human Ethology, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IEA RAS), Leading Researcher Training and Research Center of Social Anthropology, Russian State Humanitarian University (RGGU UNCSA), Professor of the Department of Ethnology, Faculty of History, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Viktoria V. Rostovtseva, PhD in Biology, senior researcher at the Center for Cross-Cultural Psychology and Human Ethology, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Anna A. Mezentseva, Junior Researcher at the Center for Cross-Cultural Psychology and Human Ethology Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Audax Mabulla, PhD, Doctor of Archaeological Sciences, Associated Professor of Archaeology and Heritage Studies Department, University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, ORCID:, e-mail:



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