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Beauty: How We Perceive Facial Attractiveness

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Do you find yourself attractive?

If we did a poll, I’m sure that the vast majority of our readers would say no. Why is that? Well, we are living in a world where beauty is standardized! We are conditioned to believe we should strive for the beauty ideals we see on magazine covers and feel bad when can’t live up. We think that beauty must be something unique, one of a kind, something you don’t come across that often.

But, more and more scientific studies show that… this is not true at all, when talking about facial attractiveness, at least!

Average Face = Attractive Face?

This statement might go against everything you thought you knew about beauty and how we perceived it as humans. Scientists from the University of London did a study where they used a computer to manipulate female faces to bring them as close to “average” as possible.

The results? Faces that were morphed towards the average were perceived as more attractive, while those that morphed the other way towards uniqueness were found less attractive!

Why Are Average Faces More Attractive?

There aren’t that many solid, well-documented studies to explain this phenomenon but we can try to come up with an answer using common sense. What do we feel when we see an “average” face? Well, for the most part, we see something familiar, something we already know and understand, so it makes us feel safe.

Back in the day, when we were still at the bottom of the food chain, we were conditioned to look for danger and the “odd thing out.” Seeing familiar faces (from our peer group) made us feel safer and would strengthen the bond between us.

The Impact Of Facial Symmetry On Attractiveness

Face symmetry has been at the core of many scientific studies, so we know quite a lot about it. The studies usually involved three images – one with the original face, one modified to appear symmetric and one modified to appear asymmetric.

The subjects were then presented with the images and asked to choose the one they found the most attractive. The results showed that the test subjects did prefer symmetric faces. But why?

Why Do We Prefer Symmetric Faces?

Trying to explain precisely why we prefer symmetric faces is a bit tricky, but most researchers would agree on two main explanations – evolutionary advantage and perceptual bias.

The Evolutionary Advantage

The evolutionary explanation states merely that facial symmetry is a clear indication of one’s health; so if we see someone who’s developed small physical imperfections (asymmetries), we will suspect his immune system is weaker, and that he is more susceptible to infections and diseases.

It’s a harsh way of looking at people, and some of you might not agree with it (refuse the fact you judge others based on physical characteristics), but we pick up these subtle cues subconsciously so you might not even be aware of them.

But is it true, are physical asymmetries a clear indicator of your health?

We are not aware of any human studies, but we did come across a study done at the University of Stirling (Scotland), where researchers followed a group of monkeys during the first four years of their life.

The research showed that, as the symmetry of their face started to decline, so did their health.

There is also research involving peacocks which showed that the ones with a more symmetric tail feathers attracted mates more easily and were particularly healthy.

The Perceptual Bias

The perceptual bias is slightly different and states that we prefer symmetric faces just because we are “wired that way.” In other words, processing symmetric stimuli is more comfortable for us and we prefer it to the asymmetric ones.

Though this explanation seems a bit ridiculous (as compared to the previous one at least), there is some data to back it up – when dealing with abstract art, most people would rather choose a “more symmetric” piece, for example.

The Impact Of Skin Tone On Facial Attractiveness

What if I were to tell you that women prefer a healthy skin glow to a strong masculine face? You’d probably call me crazy and just brush it off. But what if a professor of evolutionary psychology from the University of Bristol, Ian Penton-Voak, said the same thing? Would you believe him?

Fortunately for us, you don’t have to take his word for it because he co-authored a study with a goal to determine how skin tone affects attractiveness.

The results of the study showed that women preferred men with redder, yellower skin tones as opposed to pale.

This comes as no surprise because these tones can be a signal of good health – yellower hue is usually linked to a healthy diet (rich in fruits and vegetables), and people who exercise regularly tend to have a redder tone.

Pale skin, on the other hand, is usually considered unattractive probably because it signals that a person has a weak immune system.

Besides these, the study revealed another exciting result – traditional masculine facial features (such as a prominent, muscular jaw) did not bear any relation to attractiveness! Meaning, women from the study would rather choose a man with a healthy skin tone than a strong jaw and a masculine face.

Do You Find Yourself Attractive Now?

Remember the question I asked you at the very beginning of the article? For those of you who answered “no,” I hope this article helped you better understand the way we perceive attractiveness and that we pushed you closer to the “yes” side!

So, let’s do a quick recap of what we’ve covered in this article so you can use it to your advantage:

· People like average – it is not entirely necessary to be unique to be perceived as attractive to the opposite sex. People love seeing an “average” face as it reminds them of something familiar and comfortable.

· Facial symmetry – a more symmetric face will appear more attractive. Ask one of your friends or a family member to take a picture of you and see how symmetric your face is.

· Skin tone and complexion – as we already saw, skin tone is an essential part of the attractiveness formula, which is why you should take good care of your face. Developing a simple routine you can follow daily is the key here: start by cleansing/scrubbing your face (to eliminate dead skin cells and oil buildup) and top it off with a gentle moisturizer. Another thing you can do for your complexion is to start eating right and cut back on fast food.

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