Human attractiveness explained

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Human attractiveness explained

Symmetry and familiarity is what we like! We are wired to prefer familiar things to unfamiliar ones. For example, the mere exposure effect (see below) demonstrates that seeing something even once makes it more desirable than something that has never been seen before. The cognitive system uses familiarity as a way to judge that something is relatively safe. A lot of people go on and on about attractiveness. They even use silly numerical scales to rate attractiveness. However, that is all nonsense, you're either a) unattractive b) attractive and c) extremely attractive. Here's a break down:

Over the years, many studies have examined what people find attractive in faces. One important factor is symmetry. If you draw a line down the middle of someone’s face, the more similar the right and left sides of the face, the more attractive it is seen to be. Evolutionary psychologists have reported that we like symmetry in faces because it is a sign of health.

1. Asymmetry face (unattractive). People's faces are deemed 'unattractive' exactly because their features deviate from the symmetrical set as a default for their sex.

3. Averaged face (good looking/cute). 'Average' means having even and symmetrical features, which are generally rated more attractive than asymmetrical ones. The word "average" in a way that differs from the way that we normally use it when talking about looks and attractiveness. There is a big difference between 'average looking', as in plain, and the "average", as in a representative composite.

3. Extremely attractive face - Slightly exaggerated average. Attractiveness is not, as you might at first think, linked with distinctiveness; it’s actually the opposite. Researchers created artificial faces on a computer by combining photos of several people’s faces to generate a composite, “average” image. In preference trials, these highly average faces were consistently rated most attractive. What’s more, the more faces were used to build a composite face, the more attractive the composite face was judged. A big reason for this was morphing process eliminates the asymmetries in the individual faces.


As well as averageness (even and symmetrical features), there is another important influence on how physically attractive a person’s face is perceived to be: Familiarity. An interesting paper in the November, 2013 issue of Psychological Science demonstrates that the familiarity of a face may play an even bigger role in the attractiveness of the faces than symmetry. Male and female volunteers looked at a series of smiling female faces and were asked to rate the attractiveness of each one. Some of the faces they saw just once, while others they saw six times. By the end of the study the repeatedly viewed faces were picking up higher attractiveness ratings for no other reason than the added exposure.

This tendency, to form a more positive impression the more familiar something becomes, is known to psychologists as the “mere exposure effect”. It applies to many different situations. Research has shown that people will evaluate photographs, sounds, shapes, names and even made-up words more positively if they have encountered them before.

It affects judging on the Eurovision Song Contest. One recent study showed that when it comes to voting for a Song for Europe, newer countries that must perform in both the semi-final and final gain a points advantage over more established countries appearing only in the final, simply because the judges are watching these performances for a second time.

This mere exposure effect is how much of advertising works. We are surrounded by ads, and we often do our best to keep from listening to them. So, the messages that the ads are presenting are not likely to have a huge effect on the way we think about the product being advertised. However, just hearing the name of the brand is enough to find the product more attractive the next time we encounter it. So, you do not need to pay much attention to an ad for it to have an effect on your behavior.

But a word of warning: it’s not all plain sailing when it comes to mere exposure. If someone takes a dislike to a stimulus, repeated exposure to that stimulus will only increase the dislike. So, if that first encounter goes horribly wrong, the best thing to do might be to give it time before trying again. Even mere exposure can’t save a bad first impression.