Opinion: The psychology of looks

POSTED: 10/2/15 12:35 PM

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This old wisdom appears to be correct, Margreet Vermeulen writes in the Volkskrant. What we find a beautiful and attractive face is for a large part very personal and not just a matter of universal characteristics like symmetry, a smooth skin, a powerful jaw (for men) and full lips (for women). This appears from an American study that will be published today in Current Biology.

Research into what we consider attractive faces focuses in general on universal characteristics of beauty. Neuro-scientific researcher Laura Germine of the Massachusetts General Hospital is interested in what makes us argue who is more beautiful: the British top model Kate Moss or her Dutch counterpart Doutzen Kroes. There is little known about this. Germine had 800 twins organize hundreds of faces for beauty. The variety in personal preferences was enormous and similar among identical twins and fraternal twins.

That is at odds with the idea that our genes dictate what we find a beautiful face. To increase the chances of many and healthy offspring, we are supposedly charmed by outer appearances that indicate fit genes. A smooth skin and symmetry indicate health, broad shoulders indicate a healthy dose of testosterone and a good hip-waist ratio promises high fertility.

According to Germine universal characteristics determine about fifty percent of what most of us consider beautiful or ugly. On top of that there are individual preferences that are determined by our unique experiences and our life history. Personal encounters, faces in the media, maybe even the face of your first boyfriend or girlfriend, Germine says.

The Scottish psychologist David Perrett, an expert in the perception of beauty, says the study is solid. According to Perrett chances are significant that personal experiences are even more important in judging attractive and less attractive faces than the study shows. “Our universal preferences are probably also partially based on personal experiences. If happy and healthy people are nice to us, it strengthens the attraction of cheerful and vital types.”

Liesbeth Woertman, a professor in psychology, likes Germine’s study. Woertman is no stranger to the subject matter: she wrote a book about the psychology of looks. “I hope that this convinces people to stay away from botox and fillers,” she says.


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