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The field of ergonomics employs anthropometry to optimize human interaction with equipment and workplaces. Computer Workstation Variables cleanup.png
The field of ergonomics employs anthropometry to optimize human interaction with equipment and workplaces.

Anthropometry (from Greek ἄνθρωποςanthropos, 'human', and μέτρονmetron, 'measure') refers to the measurement of the human individual. An early tool of physical anthropology, it has been used for identification, for the purposes of understanding human physical variation, in paleoanthropology and in various attempts to correlate physical with racial and psychological traits. Anthropometry involves the systematic measurement of the physical properties of the human body, primarily dimensional descriptors of body size and shape.[ citation needed ] Since commonly used methods and approaches in analysing living standards were not helpful enough, the anthropometric history became very useful for historians in answering questions that interested them. [1]


Today, anthropometry plays an important role in industrial design, clothing design, ergonomics and architecture where statistical data about the distribution of body dimensions in the population are used to optimize products. Changes in lifestyles, nutrition, and ethnic composition of populations lead to changes in the distribution of body dimensions (e.g. the rise in obesity) and require regular updating of anthropometric data collections.


A Bertillon record for Francis Galton, from a visit to Bertillon's laboratory in 1893 Galton at Bertillon's (1893).jpg
A Bertillon record for Francis Galton, from a visit to Bertillon's laboratory in 1893

The history of anthropometry includes and spans various concepts, both scientific and pseudoscientific, such as craniometry, paleoanthropology, biological anthropology, phrenology, physiognomy, forensics, criminology, phylogeography, human origins, and cranio-facial description, as well as correlations between various anthropometrics and personal identity, mental typology, personality, cranial vault and brain size, and other factors.

At various times in history, applications of anthropometry have ranged vastly—from accurate scientific description and epidemiological analysis to rationales for eugenics and overtly racist social movements—and its points of concern have been numerous, diverse, and sometimes highly unexpected.[ clarification needed ][ citation needed ]

Individual variation


Auxologic is a broad term covering the study of all aspects of human physical growth.


Human height varies greatly between individuals and across populations for a variety of complex biological, genetic, and environmental factors, among others. Due to methodological and practical problems, its measurement is also subject to considerable error in statistical sampling.

The average height in genetically and environmentally homogeneous populations is often proportional across a large number of individuals. Exceptional height variation (around 20% deviation from a population's average) within such a population is sometimes due to gigantism or dwarfism, which are caused by specific genes or endocrine abnormalities. [2] It is important to note that a great degree of variation occurs between even the most 'common' bodies (66% of the population), [3] and as such no person can be considered 'average'.

In the most extreme population comparisons, for example, the average female height in Bolivia is 142.2 cm (4 ft 8.0 in) while the average male height in the Dinaric Alps is 185.6 cm (6 ft 1.1 in), an average difference of 43.4 cm (1 ft 5.1 in). Similarly, the shortest and tallest of individuals, Chandra Bahadur Dangi and Robert Wadlow, have ranged from 1 ft 9 in (53 cm) to 8 ft 11.1 in (272 cm), respectively. [4] [5]

The age range where most females stop growing is 15–⁠18 years and the age range where most males stop growing is 18–⁠21 years. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]


Human weight varies extensively both individually and across populations, with the most extreme documented examples of adults being Lucia Zarate who weighed 4.7 lb (2.1 kg), and Jon Brower Minnoch who weighed 1,400 lb (640 kg), and with population extremes ranging from 109.3 lb (49.6 kg) in Bangladesh to 192.7 lb (87.4 kg) in Micronesia. [13] [14]


Adult brain size varies from 974.9 cm3 (59.49 cu in) to 1,498.1 cm3 (91.42 cu in) in females and 1,052.9 cm3 (64.25 cu in) to 1,498.5 cm3 (91.44 cu in) in males, with the average being 1,130 cm3 (69 cu in) and 1,260 cm3 (77 cu in), respectively. [15] [16] The right cerebral hemisphere is typically larger than the left, whereas the cerebellar hemispheres are typically of more similar size.

Size of the human stomach varies significantly in adults, with one study showing volumes ranging from 520 cm3 (32 cu in) to 1,536 cm3 (93.7 cu in) and weights ranging from 77 grams (2.7 oz) to 453 grams (16.0 oz). [17]

Male and female genitalia exhibit considerable individual variation, with penis size differing substantially and vaginal size differing significantly in healthy adults. [18] [19] [20]


Human beauty and physical attractiveness have been preoccupations throughout history which often intersect with anthropometric standards. Cosmetology, facial symmetry, and waist–hip ratio are three such examples where measurements are commonly thought to be fundamental.

Evolutionary science

Anthropometric studies today are conducted to investigate the evolutionary significance of differences in body proportion between populations whose ancestors lived in different environments. Human populations exhibit climatic variation patterns similar to those of other large-bodied mammals, following Bergmann's rule, which states that individuals in cold climates will tend to be larger than ones in warm climates, and Allen's rule, which states that individuals in cold climates will tend to have shorter, stubbier limbs than those in warm climates.

On a microevolutionary level, anthropologists use anthropometric variation to reconstruct small-scale population history. For instance, John Relethford's studies of early 20th-century anthropometric data from Ireland show that the geographical patterning of body proportions still exhibits traces of the invasions by the English and Norse centuries ago.

Similarly, anthropometric indices, namely comparison of the human stature was used to illustrate anthropometric trends. This study was conducted by Jörg Baten and Sandew Hira and was based on the anthropological founds that human height is predetermined by the quality of the nutrition, which used to be higher in the more developed countries. The research was based on the datasets for Southern Chinese contract migrants who were sent to Suriname and Indonesia and included 13,000 individuals. [21]

Measuring instruments

3D body scanners

Today anthropometry can be performed with three-dimensional scanners. A global collaborative study to examine the uses of three-dimensional scanners for health care was launched in March 2007. The Body Benchmark Study will investigate the use of three-dimensional scanners to calculate volumes and segmental volumes of an individual body scan. The aim is to establish whether the Body Volume Index has the potential to be used as a long-term computer-based anthropometric measurement for health care. In 2001 the UK conducted the largest sizing survey to date using scanners. Since then several national surveys have followed in the UK's pioneering steps, notably SizeUSA, SizeMexico, and SizeThailand, the latter still ongoing. SizeUK showed that the nation had become taller and heavier but not as much as expected. Since 1951, when the last women's survey had taken place, the average weight for women had gone up from 62 to 65 kg. However, recent research has shown that posture of the participant significantly influences the measurements taken, [22] the precision of 3D body scanner may or may not be high enough for industry tolerances, [23] and measurements taken may or may not be relevant to all applications (e.g. garment construction). [24] Despite these current limitations, 3D Body Scanning has been suggested as a replacement for body measurement prediction technologies which (despite the great appeal) have yet to be as reliable as real human data. [25]


Example insole (in-shoe) foot pressure measurement device Example insole pressure device.jpg
Example insole (in-shoe) foot pressure measurement device

Baropodographic devices fall into two main categories: (i) floor-based, and (ii) in-shoe. The underlying technology is diverse, ranging from piezoelectric sensor arrays to light refraction, [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] but the ultimate form of the data generated by all modern technologies is either a 2D image or a 2D image time series of the pressures acting under the plantar surface of the foot. From these data other variables may be calculated (see data analysis.)

The spatial and temporal resolutions of the images generated by commercial pedobarographic systems range from approximately 3 to 10 mm and 25 to 500 Hz, respectively. Sensor technology limits finer resolution. Such resolutions yield a contact area of approximately 500 sensors (for a typical adult human foot with surface area of approximately 100 cm2). [31] For a stance phase duration of approximately 0.6 seconds during normal walking, [32] approximately 150,000 pressure values, depending on the hardware specifications, are recorded for each step.


Direct measurements involve examinations of brains from corpses, or more recently, imaging techniques such as MRI, which can be used on living persons. Such measurements are used in research on neuroscience and intelligence. Brain volume data and other craniometric data are used in mainstream science to compare modern-day animal species and to analyze the evolution of the human species in archeology.

Epidemiology and medical anthropology

Anthropometric measurements also have uses in epidemiology and medical anthropology, for example in helping to determine the relationship between various body measurements (height, weight, percentage body fat, etc.) and medical outcomes. Anthropometric measurements are frequently used to diagnose malnutrition in resource-poor clinical settings.

Forensics and criminology

An early set of finger- and handprints by Sir William Herschel, 2nd Baronet (1833-1917) Fingerprints taken by William James Herschel 1859-1860.jpg
An early set of finger- and handprints by Sir William Herschel, 2nd Baronet (1833–1917)

Forensic anthropologists study the human skeleton in a legal setting. A forensic anthropologist can assist in the identification of a decedent through various skeletal analyses that produce a biological profile. Forensic anthropologists utilize the Fordisc program to help in the interpretation of craniofacial measurements in regards to ancestry determination.

One part of a biological profile is a person's ancestral affinity. [33] People with significant European or Middle Eastern ancestry generally have little to no prognathism; a relatively long and narrow face; a prominent brow ridge that protrudes forward from the forehead; a narrow, tear-shaped nasal cavity; a "silled" nasal aperture; tower-shaped nasal bones; a triangular-shaped palate; and an angular and sloping eye orbit shape. People with considerable African ancestry typically have a broad and round nasal cavity; no dam or nasal sill; Quonset hut-shaped nasal bones; notable facial projection in the jaw and mouth area (prognathism); a rectangular-shaped palate; and a square or rectangular eye orbit shape. A relatively small prognathism often characterizes people with considerable East Asian ancestry; no nasal sill or dam; an oval-shaped nasal cavity; tent-shaped nasal bones; a horseshoe-shaped palate; and a rounded and non-sloping eye orbit shape. [34] Many of these characteristics are only a matter of frequency among those of particular ancestries: their presence or absence of one or more does not automatically classify an individual into an ancestral group.


Today, ergonomics professionals apply an understanding of human factors to the design of equipment, systems and working methods to improve comfort, health, safety, and productivity. This includes physical ergonomics in relation to human anatomy, physiological and bio mechanical characteristics; cognitive ergonomics in relation to perception, memory, reasoning, motor response including human–computer interaction, mental workloads, decision making, skilled performance, human reliability, work stress, training, and user experiences; organizational ergonomics in relation to metrics of communication, crew resource management, work design, schedules, teamwork, participation, community, cooperative work, new work programs, virtual organizations, and telework; environmental ergonomics in relation to human metrics affected by climate, temperature, pressure, vibration, and light; visual ergonomics; and others. [35] [36]


Iris recognition system based on pattern matching
2009 photo showing a man having a retinal scan taken by a U.S. Army soldier photo essay 090728-A-2946F-124.jpg
2009 photo showing a man having a retinal scan taken by a U.S. Army soldier

Biometrics refers to the identification of humans by their characteristics or traits. Biometrics is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control. [37] It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance. Biometric identifiers are the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals. [38] Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological versus behavioral characteristics. [39] Example applications include dermatoglyphics and soft biometrics.

United States military research

The US Military has conducted over 40 anthropometric surveys of U.S. Military personnel between 1945 and 1988, including the 1988 Army Anthropometric Survey (ANSUR) of men and women with its 240 measures. Statistical data from these surveys encompasses over 75,000 individuals. [40]

Civilian American and European Surface Anthropometry Resource Project — CAESAR

CAESAR began in 1997 as a partnership between government (represented by the US Air Force and NATO) and industry (represented by SAE International) to collect and organize the most extensive sampling of consumer body measurements for comparison. [41]

The project collected and organized data on 2,400 U.S. & Canadian and 2,000 European civilians and a database was developed. This database records the anthropometric variability of men and women, aged 18–65, of various weights, ethnic groups, gender, geographic regions, and socio-economic status. The study was conducted from April 1998 to early 2000 and included three scans per person in a standing pose, full-coverage pose and relaxed seating pose.

Data collection methods were standardized and documented so that the database can be consistently expanded and updated. High-resolution measurements of body surfaces were made using 3D Surface Anthropometry. This technology can capture hundreds of thousands of points in three dimensions on the human body surface in a few seconds. It has many advantages over the old measurement system using tape measures, anthropometers, and other similar instruments. It provides detail about the surface shape as well as 3D locations of measurements relative to each other and enables easy transfer to Computer-Aided Design (CAD) or Manufacturing (CAM) tools. The resulting scan is independent of the measurer, making it easier to standardize. Automatic landmark recognition (ALR) technology was used to extract anatomical landmarks from the 3D body scans automatically. Eighty landmarks were placed on each subject. More than 100 univariate measures were provided, over 60 from the scan and approximately 40 using traditional measurements.

Demographic data such as age, ethnic group, gender, geographic region, education level, and present occupation, family income and more were also captured. [42] [43]

Fashion design

Scientists working for private companies and government agencies conduct anthropometric studies to determine a range of sizes for clothing and other items. For just one instance, measurements of the foot are used in the manufacture and sale of footwear: measurement devices may be used either to determine a retail shoe size directly (e.g. the Brannock Device) or to determine the detailed dimensions of the foot for custom manufacture (e.g. ALINEr). [44]

In art Yves Klein termed his performance paintings anthropometries, where he covered nude women with paint and used their bodies as paintbrushes.

See also

Related Research Articles

Biometrics are body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics. Biometric authentication is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control. It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance.

Human variability, or human variation, is the range of possible values for any characteristic, physical or mental, of human beings.

A retinal scan is a biometric technique that uses unique patterns on a person's retina blood vessels. It is not to be confused with other ocular-based technologies: iris recognition, commonly called an "iris scan", and eye vein verification that uses scleral veins.

Gait analysis

Gait analysis is the systematic study of animal locomotion, more specifically the study of human motion, using the eye and the brain of observers, augmented by instrumentation for measuring body movements, body mechanics, and the activity of the muscles. Gait analysis is used to assess and treat individuals with conditions affecting their ability to walk. It is also commonly used in sports biomechanics to help athletes run more efficiently and to identify posture-related or movement-related problems in people with injuries.

Waist the part of the abdomen between the rib cage and hips

The waist is the part of the abdomen between the rib cage and hips. On people with slim bodies, the waist is the narrowest part of the torso.

Human height Distance from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head in a human body, standing erect

Human height or stature is the distance from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head in a human body, standing erect. It is measured using a stadiometer, usually in centimetres when using the metric system, or feet and inches when using the imperial system.

Auxology,(from Greek αὔξω, auxō, or αὐξάνω, auxanō, "grow"; and -λογία, -logia), is a meta-term covering the study of all aspects of human physical growth. Auxology is a multi-disciplinary science involving health sciences/medicine, and to a lesser extent: nutrition science, genetics, anthropology, anthropometry, ergonomics, history, economic history, economics, socio-economics, sociology, public health, and psychology, among others.

Ape index

Ape index, ape factor, or gorilla index is slang or jargon used to describe a measure of the ratio of an individual's arm span relative to their height. A typical ratio is 1, as identified by the Roman writer, architect and engineer Vitruvius prior to 15 BC. Vitruvius noted that a "well made man" has an arm span equal to his height, as exemplified in Leonardo da Vinci's c. 1492 drawing, the Vitruvian Man. In rock climbing it is believed that an Ape Index greater than one, where the arm span is greater than the height, provides for a competitive advantage, and some climbers have expressed the belief that exercise can result in an improved ratio, although this view is somewhat controversial.

The anthropometry of the upper arm is a set of measurements of the shape of the upper arms.


Cephalometry is the study and measurement of the head, usually the human head, especially by medical imaging such as radiography. Craniometry, the measurement of the cranium (skull), is a large subset of cephalometry. Cephalometry also has a history in phrenology, which is the study of personality and character as well as physiognomy, which is the study of facial features. Cephalometry as applied in a comparative anatomy context informs biological anthropology. In clinical contexts such as dentistry and oral and maxillofacial surgery, cephalometric analysis helps in treatment and research; cephalometric landmarks guide surgeons in planning and operating.

Body identification

Body identification is a subfield of forensic science that uses a variety of scientific and non-scientific methods to identify a body. Forensic purposes are served by rigorous scientific forensic identification techniques, but these are generally preceded by formal identification. This involves requesting a family member or friend of the victim to visually identify the body.

Soft Biometrics traits are physical, behavioural or adhered human characteristics, classifiable in pre–defined human compliant categories. These categories are, unlike in the classical biometric case, established and time–proven by humans with the aim of differentiating individuals. In other words the soft biometric traits instances are created in a natural way, used by humans to distinguish their peers.

Vein matching Technique of biometric identification

Vein matching, also called vascular technology, is a technique of biometric identification through the analysis of the patterns of blood vessels visible from the surface of the skin. Though used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, this method of identification is still in development and has not yet been universally adopted by crime labs as it is not considered as reliable as more established techniques, such as fingerprinting. However, it can be used in conjunction with existing forensic data in support of a conclusion.

Richard L. Jantz is an American anthropologist. He served as the director of the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility from 1998–2011 and he is the current Professor Emeritus of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research focuses primarily on forensic anthropology, skeletal biology, dermatoglyphics, anthropometry, anthropological genetics, and human variation, as well as developing computerized databases in these areas which aid in anthropological research. The author of over a hundred journal articles and other publications, his research has helped lead and shape the field of physical and forensic anthropology for many years.

In order to identify a person, a security system has to compare personal characteristics with a database. A scan of a person's iris, fingerprint, face, or other distinguishing feature is made and a series of biometric points are drawn at key locations in the scan. For example, in the case of a facial scan, biometric points might be placed at the tip of each ear lobe and in the corners of both eyes. Measurements taken between all the points of a scan are compiled and result in a numerical "score". This score is unique for every individual, but it can quickly and easily be compared to any compiled scores of the facial scans in the database to determine if there is a match.[citation needed]

Human factors and ergonomics Application of psychological and physiological principles to engineering and design

Human factors and ergonomics is the application of psychological and physiological principles to the engineering and design of products, processes, and systems. The goal of human factors is to reduce human error, increase productivity, and enhance safety and comfort with a specific focus on the interaction between the human and the thing of interest.

The history of anthropometry includes its use as an early tool of anthropology, use for identification, use for the purposes of understanding human physical variation in paleoanthropology and in various attempts to correlate physical with racial and psychological traits. At various points in history, certain anthropometrics have been cited by advocates of discrimination and eugenics often as part of novel or based upon pseudoscience.

World Engineering Anthropometry Resource (WEAR) is an international not-for-profit group that "provides a digital platform for sharing anthropometric data from around the world." It is registered in Europe but its members and partners are from all over the globe. It is made up of “a group of interested experts involved in the application of anthropometry data for design purposes.”

A digital autopsy is a non-invasive autopsy in which digital imaging technology, such as with Computerized Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, is used to develop three-dimensional images for a virtual exploration of a human body.

3D body scanning

3D body scanning is an application of various technologies such as Structured-light 3D scanner, 3D depth sensing, stereoscopic vision and others for ergonomic and anthropometric investigation of the human form as a point-cloud. The technology and practice within research has found 3D body scanning measurement extraction methodologies to be comparable to traditional anthropometric measurement techniques.


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Further reading