March 30, 2015

U-of-I research sniffs out reason why men’s noses are bigger than women’s

It may be as plain as the nose on your face, but a new University of Iowa study finds the noses of men are about 10 percent larger, on average, than women’s noses in people of European descent.

“There have been a lot of arguments that differences in males and females, at least in terms of their nasal size, is a function of the amount of oxygen that we need,” says Nathan Holton, a professor in the U-of-I College of Dentistry who is lead author of the research report. “We were just looking to more explicitly test that hypothesis.”

Holton says males have more lean muscle mass and that requires more oxygen — hence bigger noses for men to “feed” their more muscular bodies.

“What we find is that around the age of 11, around the age of puberty, males and females begin to diverge in terms of nasal size,” Holton says. “…If you have a male and female who have the same body size, males will have larger noses.”

Humans have smaller noses today than our ancient Neanderthal ancestors did and Holton says their research points to the reason for that, too.

“We suspect that in modern humans what may be happening is that nasal size is becoming reduced, at least in part, because modern humans relative to archaic human have less lean body mass,” Holton says. “They have smaller bodies, less lean mass and, therefore, they require less oxygen to feed that mass.”

Holton says this research also emphasizes that the nose is “a valuable extension of the lungs” rather than just a mere ornament of the face.  The research has been published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.