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Can you judge someone's personality by the shape of their ears?

You know what they say about big ears...

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Can you judge someone's personality by the shape of their ears?

Asked by Ronnie Lathrop of Evanston, Illinois

A century ago the pseudo science of phrenology was flourishing. According to phrenologists, one's personality and character could be identified by examining the shape and contours of their skull.

Phrenology has long been discredited. So the enterprise of having the same expectations from the ears, the mouth, the nose, or any other body part of the face and head seems equally doomed. But this is not the unanimous opinion of all experts.

When it comes to determining personality and character, the ears in particular may give some modest but detectable indication. According to evolutionary biologist Dr John Manning, tiny swellings in a man's facial features can expose "miserable moods" or "a tired mind". And women could be signaling the way to the bedroom with similar, subtle changes that conspire to make them most attractive at their most fertile times.

Dr Manning and colleagues at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Liverpool have blamed "cyclical asymmetery" for this. Cyclical asymmetry involve hormonal changes that make human tissue shrink or swell slightly out of proportion, thus subtly altering the way we look.

As early as in 1997, as quoted by Reuters, Dr Manning said that "lying on top of bone is soft tissue and this is subject to changes in size because of hormonally-driven water retention and loss. It is in the face, nostrils, and particularly in the ears where you see this most clearly. It only takes a shift of a millimeter or so to change the symmetry. Symmetry is known to make us more attractive to the opposite sex".

Dr Manning adds that closely matching eyes, ears, or legs signal strong genes that suggest the healthy, robust, and ideal partner. Dr Manning notes that women have a rush of the progesterone just after they ovulate putting them at their symmetrical peak once a month. But men are ruled by 24-hour hormonal rhythms.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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