Study: The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty

Meta-analysis/Review paper. Top tier.

Click to access rhodes.meta.analysis.pdf

What makes a face attractive and why do we have the preferences we do? Emergence of preferences early in development and cross-cultural agreement on attractiveness challenge a long-held view that our preferences reflect arbitrary standards of beauty set by cultures. Averageness, symmetry, and sexual dimorphism are good candidates for biologically based standards of beauty. A critical review and meta-analyses indicate that all three are attractive in both male and female faces and across cultures. Theorists have proposed that face preferences may be adaptations for mate choice because attractive traits signal important aspects of mate quality, such as health. Others have argued that they may simply be by-products of the way brains process information. Although often presented as alternatives, I argue that both kinds of selection pressures may have shaped our perceptions of facial beauty.
It confirms the obvious…
…..Femininity is the strongest component of female attractiveness, but it showed no association with health (although only one study has looked for this). Femininity may signal fertility rather than health per se (Johnston 2000, Johnston & Franklin 1993, Symons 1979). The reasoning is that high estrogen/androgen ratio are associated with both feminine characteristics (e.g., small jaw, full lips) and fertility. A preference for feminine faces, therefore, would target sexually mature females. Facial femininity could also signal individual differences in fertility in adult females, to the extent that femininity declines with age.
How men age in attractiveness wasn’t studied, nor cross-referenced with sperm quality, which pisses me off. I wanna see the data on that.
What do you expect, it’s mostly men conducting the studies in this field.
Recently, male facial attractiveness has been linked to genetic heterozygosity at sites involved in immune function. Future studies should determine which components of male attractiveness (masculinity, averageness, symmetry) mediate this link, and whether female attractiveness is also linked to heterozygosity at these sites. A more direct test of a link between attractiveness and immunocompetence could also be done by challenging the immune system.
However, this seems to reinforce a youth link in both sexes via immune function and cellular quality.

3 responses to “Study: The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty

  1. Something I have noticed, as a counterpoint, is that we seek dimorphism in some traits (jawbone in women should be small and sharp, in men should be broad and rounded), but we seek androgyny in others (large eyes with thick eyelashes are a feminine or infantile -depending on who you ask- trait, yet considered attractive on both genders). Now, you could easily say that this is down to these traits simply being desirable, but we must also consider that humans are one of the least sexually dimorphous primates out there. Gorillas and chimpanzees hardly share 50% of their physical traits across both genders and the size difference is 55-65%, unlike humans who share 80+% of our physical traits across both genders and have a size difference of 15%.

    This means two things for mate selection:

    One: most of the traits we see as desirable are androgynous, shared traits. This is the benchmark for being recognized as human and healthy. Good skin, bright eyes, blushing, thick hair, leanness.

    Two: where we differ, these traits will be prized highly. The small number of differences we have will be very important and will sway our mate-selection massively. Otherwise we’d have widespread homosexual behaviour and have lost out in the genetic race. So men love women’s slightly wider hips and women love men’s slightly higher mass. Women love men’s facial hair and men love women’s bust.

    It wouldn’t shock me that mate selection actually breaks down like this:
    50%= The 15-20% dimorphous traits. Do they look very masculine/feminine?
    40%= The 85-80% androgynous traits. Do they look human and healthy?
    10%= Personal taste and fetish. Do they look willing and viable?

    Which would explain phenomena such as anime waifus. She is hyper-feminine, so that’s 50% “yes”. She has the right personality and looks to be his “type”, so another 10%. That’s already 60% “yes”, why would she need to look realistic or human? She’s already passed the test.

    • Hidden estrus and no mating season. Without subtler differences, it would be chaos. Youth cues can conflict with masculine ones, but it’s untrue to say a pure face would be most attractive, maybe quite off-putting like uncanny valley or a caveman and most people prefer a range of traits in a face, probably for genetic diversity. It’s the blend of features we judge, and what is beautiful is very different from sexy (fertility).

      • We also needed some flexibility. We’re highly adaptable animals designed to live in a range of environments. Humans that wanted to survive on the Savannah would breed in physical traits entirely different to those bred into humans that survived in the Alps. If our fertility and gender signals covered too many physical traits and were too objectively dominant then we may have become “locked in” and sacrificed survivability for reproductive options. By having so few fertility and gender signals we allow ourselves to become a tribe of tall, lanky people or a tribe of heavyset, muscular, fattier people, according to our survival needs.

1. Be civil. 2. Be logical or fair. 3. Do not bore me.

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