Beauty is an interesting topic not only to men and women of all ages but to scientists as well. According to evidence presented by biologists, psychologists and other researchers, looks may matter even more than we think. Among the findings in research studies that have been made are the following interesting observations:
The Advantage of Being Attractive
There is a distinct advantage of being attractive. Good-looking people enjoy social advantages unavailable to the plain and the homely. This ‘bias for beauty’ is apparent in various situations. Studies show that, in general, we react more favourably to physically attractive people. For example:
Attractive children are more popular. In general, their teachers give them higher grades and have higher expectations of them (resulting in improved performance in school).
Applicants looking for jobs have a better chance of getting one if they are attractive. They also have a better chance of receiving higher salaries. One study found that attractive men make about 12% to 15% more a year than unattractive ones. In another study, military cadets whose faces matched the “manly” ideal of strong jaws, bright eyes and sharply defined features tended to advance faster in their careers than men who fell short of the ideal.
Attractive people are often looked upon with favor because of the ‘what is beautiful is good’ stereotype – a common belief that physically attractive people have positive characteristics such as intelligence, competence, and moral virtue.
Beauty and Babies
There is evidence that our preference for beauty may be biologically ingrained. In an experiment done by Alan Slater, a developmental psychologist at the University of Exeter in south-west England, almost 100 newborn babies, an average of 2.5 days old, were shown photographs of pairs of faces which were matched in everything except attractiveness. The infants chose to stare at the face the psychologists judged as the attractive face rather than the unattractive one.
The research showed that while it has been suggested that humans determine their concept of attractiveness based on the “average” of all the faces they see, and that features that are most close to the human average in size and shape are the most attractive, it is interesting that the newborn infants, with their very limted exposure to various human features still chose to look at the more attractive of two faces.
The Golden ratio
In ancient Greece, Helen of Troy, was the paragon of beauty, celebrated for her physical perfection. Philosophers tried to answer the question of what made Helen and other women beautiful. Plato wrote of so-called “golden proportions,” in which, among other things, the width of an ideal face would be two-thirds its length, while a nose would be no longer than the distance between the eyes.
Although some research has pointed out that the golden ratio plays a part in what we perceive as beauty, researchers in modern psychological and biological research now believe symmetry is the answer the Greeks were looking for.
Beauty and Symmetry
A number of biologists and psychologists who have tried to define what exactly beauty is have found evidence that beauty seems to be related to symmetry, fitness and fertility.
Biologists studying the animal kingdom have discovered that animals that are more symmetrical are more likely to attract a mate. Scientists say that the preference for symmetry is a trait seen in many different animals such as swallows and zebra finches. In a study of horses, it was observed that horses that are more symmetrical run faster than those that are less symmetrical even if the differences measured were minimal. In this case. it seems symmetry is related to fitness and may be a good indicator of general health and strength.
In humans, it seems that symmetry is also a major factor in the average person’s perception of what beauty is. Persons with symmetric facial features are more likely to be thought of as beautiful.
In an experiment with babies, when given a choice of looking at pictures of symmetric individuals and asymmetric ones, the babies preferred staring at the symmetrical faces. In another study, when several faces were averaged to create a composite picture, the composite (which was symmetrical) was judged more attractive by the panel of judges.
Another study, done by Victor Johnston of New Mexico State University, utilizes a program called FacePrints. Viewers are shown facial images of variable attractiveness and are asked to rate the pictures on a beauty scale from one to nine. Then the pictures with the best ratings are merged together, while the less attractive photos are taken out. Each trial ends when a viewer rates the composite a 10. All the perfect 10s in the study were super-symmetric.
In a study done in the University of Louisville, when shown pictures of different individuals, Asians, Latinos, and whites from 13 different countries all had the same general preferences when rating others as attractive. The most symmetric faces were rated as the most attractive.
Various studies have showed that the symmetry of a man’s body relates to when he begins his sex life (earlier if his body is symmetrical) and how many partners he’ll have (more if symmetrical). According to this study, symmetry could also mean more fertility.
One study showed some relationship between the number of children that a woman had, and the symmetry of her breasts. According to this study, the women with more evenly-sized breasts had more children, while the women with differently-sized breasts had fewer children.
It is interesting how symmetry can make any difference to one’s fertility, fitness or attractiveness. Perhaps, like animals, symmetry in humans could also be a measure of general fitness, a strong immune system, robust genes,vigour and fertility.
The Waist to Hip Ratio
According to The Evolution of Human Sociality by Stephen K. Sanderson, studies have shown that males prefer women with low Waist to Hip Ratios “in at least seven different cultures or ethnic populations,” including the United States, England, Germany, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Guinea-Bissau. A WHR of 0.70 has been shown to be the predominant preferrence . Accoding to him, “Girls with lower WHRs show earlier pubertal endocrine activity, and married women with higher WHRs have more difficulty getting pregnant and give birth to their first child at a later age.” In this case, it seems that beauty is once again related to fertility.