There is common belief that large ears are associated with long life. Is there scientific basis to this belief?
There is a common belief, attributed to the Chinese, that people with long ears tend to have longer lifespan than those with small ears. A book on face reading by Boye Lafayette De Mente noted that large ears are indicative of courage and initiative, and are associated with long life. Also, De Mente claimed that hard earlobes also indicate good health.
When I was a child, I remembered that I used to pull my ear so it would become larger partly because of this belief and another, because I noticed my ear is proportionately small in relation to my head. My grandmother has large ears and she lived to a ripe age of 91. Is this a matter of coincidence or is there any valid scientific explanation to this observation? I searched answers to this question and came up with the following findings.
Gamatsi, Nikolopoulos and Lioumi (2003) reviewed ancient documents, journal articles, and history books to find out ancient and current beliefs and misconceptioncs about the ear. They found out that even ear malformations were given prophetical meanings and implied hereditary disorders. Egyptian and Greek-Roman medicine suggested strange connections of the ear with the body. This led the way to exclusion of people with ear deformities and even mutilation of the ear as a method of punishment.
The review showed that attributions to the ear are largely based on misconceptions or false beliefs.
There is very limited information on scientific investigations about ear size and longevity. Apparently, research along this area is still lacking. However, investigations that utilize at least some form of modern methods of inquiry showed an association between ear size and lifespan.
The ear is an indicator of health and stretches as we age
For example, Lynn Nielsen-Bohlman, noted that ear size or pattern, or both, may be a marker of some biological process related to health. Men with smaller ears may die selectively at younger ages.
The ear stretches as we age
Another study concluded that one of the things that does happen is that skin loses elasticity as we age, so it stretches. So, ear lobes tend to increase in length with age.
Older people have bigger ears
James Heathcote, a British general practitioner, studied 206 patients with the aid of four doctors and published his findings in the British Medical Journal. They found out that older people have bigger ears. But the results apparently are flawed because the subjects were not randomly selected and the findings could not be held true to the general population.
In one of those studies on the ear, the results appear to be spurious. Regression analysis, a statistical technique to extrapolate about variable relationships, say ear size in relation to age, showed that there was a linear relation between ear size and men aged 30 to 93. Ear length (y) can be estimated using the equation: y = 55.9 + 0.22 x age in years. The value of 55.9 mm is the intercept, which means that when age is zero, the ear would be 55.9 mm or 5.6 cm long. That’s too large an ear for a newborn baby.
There may or may not be truth to the belief that having large (or long ears for that matter) has something to do with longevity. This requires furthe study. If you are born with small ears, there’s nothing you can do about it (unless maybe you undergo plastic surgery?). What matters more is not how long you live but how well you live your life.