Literature with regards to facial attractiveness?

Literature with regards to facial attractiveness?

I would like to ask for suggestions of literature regarding the study of facial features, preferably in a context of how they may be considered attractive or not.

To clarify, the goal is to try and gain an understanding of what distinct facial features exist, and of what variation exists regarding each of them (in lengths, angles, other topographical aspects), and of how those features combine into more visually complex features, etc. This is for no particular purpose other than just my own curiosity.

Facial attractiveness: evolutionary based research

Face preferences affect a diverse range of critical social outcomes, from mate choices and decisions about platonic relationships to hiring decisions and decisions about social exchange. Firstly, we review the facial characteristics that influence attractiveness judgements of faces (e.g. symmetry, sexually dimorphic shape cues, averageness, skin colour/texture and cues to personality) and then review several important sources of individual differences in face preferences (e.g. hormone levels and fertility, own attractiveness and personality, visual experience, familiarity and imprinting, social learning). The research relating to these issues highlights flexible, sophisticated systems that support and promote adaptive responses to faces that appear to function to maximize the benefits of both our mate choices and more general decisions about other types of social partners.


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About the Author

GILLIAN RHODES is Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Australia and the author of Superportraits: Caricatures and Recognition. She is a recipient of the New Zealand Psychological Society's Hunter Award for Excellence in Research and is on the editorial boards of Psychonomic Bulletin, The British Journal of Psychology, and the New Zealand Journal of Psychology.

Attraction is the power or ability to evoke interest, liking, or pleasure for something or someone. In general, it can also be considered as a force which pulls or draws one object to another. Psychology of attraction is said to follow the Law of Attraction. This law is explained briefly by the fact like-attracts-like. The law is further explained as, things of similar kind tend to attract to each other. The same law holds good for thoughts too. Positive thoughts lead us to positive experiences in life and similarly negative thoughts are responsible for negative experiences in life. To make the law of attraction work, we need to focus, believe and have full faith on what we desire. Attraction can be of many kinds, such as interpersonal attraction, physical attraction, sexual attraction, tourist attraction, and amusement park attraction.

Interpersonal attraction is a force that acts between two people which tends to draw them closer, which further leads to romantic relationships or friendship, and resists the separation between them. Interpersonal attraction is measured by the ‘Interpersonal Attraction Judgment Scale’. In this measurement procedure, qualities of the one who is attracted as well as the qualities of the attractor as well as the situation and personality is taken into account.

Physical attraction is the attractiveness caused by a person’s pleasing physical appearance. Researchers found that there is a direct relationship between general intelligence and physical appearance. Men in general, are attracted to women with a height shorter than they are and youthful appearance, along with full breasts and lips, symmetrical face, and a low ratio of waste-hip. Women, are attracted to men, taller than them, masculine dimorphism, broad shoulders and a torso having V-like shape.

Sexual attraction refers to a person’s ability to attract another by arousing his/her sexual desire. The notion of sexual attractiveness is a relative aspect as the measure of getting attracted to someone sexually can vary from person to person. It depends on the person’s interest, sexual orientation and perception. We can be attracted to a person’s looks, clothing, smell, voice, hair, style, practically anything related with the physical appearance.

Tourist attraction, on the other hand is a place of interest which is frequently visited by the tourist for its cultural value, natural beauty or historical significance.

Amusement park attraction is a location, which is artificially built in order to entertain and give enjoyment to a large group of people through its attractive events, rides and many more.

In a scientific perspective, it is the genes which decide things that would seem attractive to us. But you might find certain things which are liked or loved by almost everyone. Some types of shapes, colors, organization and symmetry seem attractive to many. In web designing, shapes like triangle (represents balance, energy, strength), circle (represents family, warmth, love) and squares (logic, security, order) play a major role. Colors like red (arouses emotions like anger, fear, passion) and blue (trustworthiness and loyalty) are used in marketing quiet often. It has been found that clashing colors repulse viewers. Symmetrical features are found to be more attractive than asymmetric ones to people, especially babies.

Facial Symmetry and Attractiveness

One of the leading aspects used to measure conventional attractiveness scientifically is facial symmetry. Typically, this is measured by manipulating an original photo of a person (we are all at least a little asymmetric, no person is perfectly symmetrical) into a perfectly symmetric version of their face. This manipulated, symmetric image is then presented to test subject along with the original photo. Subjects are then asked to indicate which face is more attractive, usually indicating the symmetrical version. (These findings have been replicated in multiple studies.) Though these results indicate that people prefer and perceive the more symmetric faces as attractive, there has been considerable debate about why this is.

There have been two theories of substance proposed by researchers to explain the preference for symmetrical faces:

The Evolutionary Advantage theory proposed that symmetrical faces are perceived as more attractive because the symmetry indicates good health in an individual. Everyone’s genes are designed to develop a face perfectly symmetrical, but as we grow, develop, and then age, disease, infections, and parasites cause imperfection in our appearance (asymmetry). Thus, those that have less asymmetry and imperfections, are perceived as having better and stronger immune systems to withstand the infections and parasites that occur naturally. So, symmetry is a good indicator of a person having good genes to pass on their offspring. Under the Evolutionary Advantage view of symmetric preferences, we have evolved to prefer symmetry and perceive it as attractive because over human history we have consistently and constantly preferred healthier individuals for mates. In sum, the Evolutionary Advantage view suggests that attraction to symmetric individuals reflects an attraction to healthy individuals who would be good mates.

The second theory to explain the preference for facial symmetry is Perceptual Bias. This theory suggests that the human visual system may be “hard wired” in a way that makes it much easier to process symmetrical stimuli than asymmetrical stimuli. If this is true, the ease of processing symmetrical stimuli would cause us to naturally prefer them to asymmetrical stimuli. Under this view, preferences for symmetrical faces would be no different than for any other object. So according to this, as well as preferring symmetrical faces, humans would also prefer more symmetrical objects of any kind. This has been supported as it has been found that people much prefer symmetrical pieces of abstract art and sculptures to asymmetrical ones.

Little and Jones (2003) did a study to investigate why people prefer symmetric faces to asymmetric ones, by testing and attempting to apply predictions from both the Evolutionary Advantage theory and Perceptual Bias. Previous studies found that the symmetric preference is stronger for attractiveness of opposite sex than same sex. Little and Jones found that the manipulated, symmetric faces were judged more attractive when shown the right way up, but not when the faces were inverted. These findings suggest that symmetry is more important in mate choice stimuli than in other stimuli, supporting the Evolutionary Advantage theory and presenting multiple difficulties for the Perception Bias theory (if symmetry of any kind was preferred then the more symmetrical face would have been indicated as more attractive both the right way up AND when inverted).

If anyone is interested in learning more, you can benefit from taking a class or just researching Penn State’s very own Dr. Mark Shriver, a geneticist, who conducts research in Brazil on facial symmetry. Though ongoing, Shriver’s research has measured thousands of Brazilian (and other ethnicities) faces in facial symmetry, judging their scientific attractiveness and therefore contributing the most evidence towards the idea that mixed race people are more attractive — in this case attraction is not subjective, it is purely measure with symmetry. Shriver teaches many higher level ANTH classes, but if anyone is interested, I suggest starting with ANTH 021 – Biological Anthropology.

Yes, You Really Do Have a 'Type,' Science Says

I s beauty really in the eye of the beholder? A new study says yes, discovering that 50% of people’s preferences for faces is unique to them, and who we find attractive is most strongly influenced by our life experiences.

“If you were to rate faces [for attractiveness] and I were to rate the same faces, we would agree about 50% of the time,” says study author Jeremy Wilmer, an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College whose new research was published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

The two-part study first had around 35,000 people rate faces for attractiveness on the website Prior research has suggested that people generally agree that symmetrical faces are better-looking. That, and other factors, may account for the 50% consensus on beauty.

As for the other 50% of faces? That’s where the science really gets interesting.

In the second part of the study, the researchers studied the facial preferences of 547 pairs of identical twins and 214 pairs of fraternal twins. The hope was that by studying people who are genetically the same (or at least very similar) and who grew up and in the same environment, they would gain some insight into the nature or nurture effects of where the “eye of the beholder” variation in attractiveness perception comes from.

If something is really influenced by genes you would expect identical twins to be more similar to each other than the fraternal twins, Wilmer says. On the other hand, if family environment is highly influential, the researchers would expect fraternal twins to be quite similar to each other in preferences. But that’s not what they found.

“In our case, we found that even though identical twins share all of their genes and their family environment they were really, really different from each other in their facial aesthetic preferences,” says Wilmer.

It’s likely personal experiences inform who we find attractive, and because they are so personal, we can greatly differ from someone who&mdashon paper&mdashis quite similar to us, the research suggests.

So what types of experiences influence who we find attractive? The researchers didn’t study this in their paper, but study author Laura Germine of Massachusetts General Hospital says that based on previous literature on this subject, they have some theories.

“[Prior research] has found things like, if you take a face and you pair it with positive information, that face then looks more attractive, and faces that are similar to it also look more attractive and vice versa,” she says. “So you can imagine as you go through life and you form relationships and have friends and people you have a more positive relationship with, you may come to find their face characteristics more attractive, and then other people who look similar to them are then more attractive to you.”

“Exposure to certain faces makes them seem more attractive,” she adds. That means a face that is very different from a face that you have never seen before tends to be judged as less attractive. It also means the kinds of faces you are exposed to in your work environment, in your relationships or even the face of your spouse could shift the kind of faces that you find attractive, she says.

Basically, who you find attractive may be less about where you grew up and where you went to school and more influenced by experiences that are very unique to you. More research is still needed, but the study suggests beauty really may be in the eye of the beholder.

Evaluation: Issues & Debates

Physical attractiveness seems to be an important factor in forming relationships across cultures. For example, Cunningham et al. (1995) found that white, Asian and Hispanic males, despite being from different cultures, rated females with prominent cheekbones, small noses and large eyes as highly attractive. This universality of findings suggests that using attractiveness as a decisive factor in choosing a partner might be a genetically reproduced mechanism, aiding sexual selection. This gives support to the nature side of nature-nurture debate as it shows that human behaviour is mainly a result of biological rather than environmental influences.

On the other hand, the matching hypothesis may be suffering from a beta-bias, as it assumes that men and women are very similar in their view of the importance of physical attractiveness. Research, however, suggests that this may not be the case. For example, Meltzer et al. (2014) found that men rate their long-term relationships more satisfying if their partner is physically attractive, while for women their partner’s attractiveness didn’t have a significant impact on relationship satisfaction. This shows that there are significant gender differences in how important appearance is for attraction.

The matching hypothesis is a theory that is based on a nomothetic approach to studying human behaviour. It tries to generate behavioural laws applicable to all people however, as studies above suggest, there are significant individual differences in the importance of physical attractiveness to one’s choice of a partner. Therefore, explanations based on the idiographic approach (studying individual cases in detail, without trying to generate universal rules) may be more appropriate for studying romantic relationships.

"Why are black women less attractive?" asks Psychology Today

By Natasha Lennard
Published May 17, 2011 11:30PM (EDT)

Supermodel, television personality and famed beauty, Tyra Banks, "objectively" less attractive?


An article posted online on Monday by Psychology Today provoked controversy and cries of racism. The title of evolutionary psychologist Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa's piece: "Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?"

His argument is that there is a set of data, which shows black women to be "objectively" less attractive than white, Asian or Native American women, but that the same data does not find black men less attractive than men of other races. Kanazawa accepts this data and then tries to explain why it is the case. He suggests that black people have more testosterone than other races, and so possess "more masculine features." He states too that women are "objectively" more attractive than men, so if black women have more masculine features, this explains why they are rated less attractive.

Following outraged responses, Psychology Today changed the article's title to "Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?" and then took it down altogether, although you can still read the "study" in its entirety here.

Now, in the tagline to his Psychology Today blog -- the Scientific Fundamentalist -- Kanazawa warns, "If what I say is wrong (because it is illogical or lacks credible scientific evidence), then it is my problem. If what I say offends you, it is your problem."

Well, by Kanazawa's standards then, his recent article is most certainly his problem (as well as a problem for Psychology Today and the academic institutions he is affiliated with -- the London School of Economics and London's Birckbeck College).

First, let's look at the data Kanazawa uses, which allegedly shows "objectively" that black women are less attractive than non-black women. It turns out the evidence is just the opinions of a group of researchers who worked for a large study called Add Health. The researchers were asked to rate the study’s subjects (men and women from different races) according to how attractive they found them (1=very unattractive, 2= unattractive, 3=about average, 4=attractive, 5=very attractive). As Colorlines notes:

 I'm confused about how these data are objective. Did some bias-free robots from the utopian ether descend upon each testing site to perform this portion of the evaluation? Or were the interviewers human beings, subject to the same racism, sexism, ablelism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, fat phobia and whateverthehellelsephobia that undergirds beauty standards?

So, Kanazawa essentially seems to be asking, "Why are black women less attractive according to standards of attractiveness which find black women less attractive" – he begs his own question.

Kanazawa's conclusion -- that it is testosterone that makes black women less physically attractive -- adds another layer of bad logic. "Recall," he states (without qualification), "that women on average are more physically attractive than men" -- ergo black women, who have more testosterone and so look more manly, are less attractive.

Whole university departments are devoted to the complexities of how gender is considered and how notions of attractiveness problematically sit around gender divisions. Kanazawa, however, in his use of the terms "attractive," "women" and "men," ignores the fact that these issues are the subjects of much ongoing debate and analysis.

And the evolutionary psychologist does not point to the problems involved with generalizing about races -- which, of course, categorize millions of very different people.

Groups like "LSE: Home of the Racist Academic. Say No" have formed in opposition to Kanazawa (who has a history of racially biased research). They are demanding an apology from Psychology Today and have called for Kanazawa's employer universities to reconsider his positions, the U.K. site Voice Online reported.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email [email protected]

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Effects of sexual dimorphism on facial attractiveness

Testosterone-dependent secondary sexual characteristics in males may signal immunological competence 1 and are sexually selected for in several species 2 , 3 . In humans, oestrogen-dependent characteristics of the female body correlate with health and reproductive fitness and are found attractive 4,5,6 . Enhancing the sexual dimorphism of human faces should raise attractiveness by enhancing sex-hormone-related cues to youth and fertility in females 5 , 7,8,9,10,11 , and to dominance and immunocompetence in males 5 , 12 , 13 . Here we report the results of asking subjects to choose the most attractive faces from continua that enhanced or diminished differences between the average shape of female and male faces. As predicted, subjects preferred feminized to average shapes of a female face. This preference applied across UK and Japanese populations but was stronger for within-population judgements, which indicates that attractiveness cues are learned. Subjects preferred feminized to average or masculinized shapes of a male face. Enhancing masculine facial characteristics increased both perceived dominance and negative attributions (for example, coldness or dishonesty) relevant to relationships and paternal investment. These results indicate a selection pressure that limits sexual dimorphism and encourages neoteny in humans.


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