When you see many people, such as in a crowd, there will always be a number of faces that pop up, and these most probably are the ones you find attractive. As the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” or phrased differently by philosopher David Hume, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them and each mind contemplates a different beauty.” In short, our definition of beauty is subjective.
However, though the perception of beauty varies from person to person, from one culture to another, and even from one era to the next, human society has always had a general concept of what is attractive and what is not.
What catches your eye might be different from what catches another person’s eye, but there are certain physical characteristics that most people find beautiful according to science – You know, why those good-looking personalities are on TV or magazine covers. Or how about the fun, satirical portraits done by caricature artists? Do they have a “twisted” view of the human face?
We’re attracted to certain physical traits over others thanks to our evolution, according to a 2016 study in Evolutionary Psychology. So, what is it that makes a face attractive according to science, not society?
Symmetry is when one-half of the face is exactly the same or mirrors the other half. Researchers agree that a person with a symmetrical face is attractive; however, it isn’t clear yet why that is so. One theory suggests that a symmetrical face indicates a healthy potential mate or one that is devoid of any contagious sickness. In other words, a person with a more symmetrical face is considered to have “good genes” which can be passed on to children. Still another theory is that of the “perceptual bias,” i.e., symmetrical faces are easier to process.
This refers to how closely a face resembles the majority of other faces within a population. An average face is a blend or combination of the different facial features of the population,which means that a plain Joe or Jane is more attractive than a non-average or exotic face. Anthony Little, a psychologist at Scotland’s University of Stirling, told Science News for Students that averageness includes different factors, including the size and the arrangement of your facial features.
According to a Human Nature study, the reason why we find average faces beautiful might be because a more average face indicates a more diverse set of genes. This translates to a greater genetic advantage when it comes to fighting diseases.
In addition, average faces are attractive not only because we can recognize them within the population but also because they are easier to process, according to a 2015 study in the Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. “It appears that a morphed face is a good and easy-to-process example of a universal human ‘face’ — but it is a poor and difficult-to-process example of the original, locally known faces,” the article “The Two Faces of Attractiveness” reads. “The ease of processing the prototypical faces boosts positive emotions, and these emotions generalize to make average faces generally appealing.”
When someone tells you “Hey, you look familiar,” it just might be because you actually do look like someone they know and that’s why they’re attracted to you. “Familiar faces are easy to process and categorize,” an article for the Association for Psychological Science read. In addition, they are also associated with safety, trust, and good feelings.
What does beauty in simplicity mean?
Simple things, like the little things are sometimes the most important and beautiful things, including human faces. While many women wear elaborate makeup to make themselves look pretty, it might be unnecessary to become more attractive to the opposite sex. A 2016 study found that men found the faces of women that were symmetrical, more plain, and with no distinguishing features to be more beautiful. The reason: “Our brains like faces that are relatively simple,” Bill von Hippel, a University of Queensland psychology professor, told News.com.au.
According to a 2018 study in Frontiers in Psychology, men are highly attracted to women who have thick eyebrows. Meanwhile, a separate study in 2007 in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery found that younger people find low brows, or eyebrows close to the eye, more attractive, whereas those over 50 find high arched eyebrows beautiful.
According to a 2019 study in the Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, women find men with dark circles or limbal rings around their irises more attractive than those without. Meanwhile, in a study conducted in 2011 and published in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, researchers found that your face is more attractive if you have dilated pupils and if you have more white in the outer area of your eye.
Remember when duck lips were all the rage? Well, it turns out that white women actually find a fuller lower lip more attractive, according to a study in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. Jamie Gordon, an anthropologist, told Women’s Health that this might be because fuller lips indicate youthfulness.
Compared to a clean shaven face, a man with a beard was more attractive to women, according to one study. However, women prefer a heavy stubble or about 10 days of growth over a full or heavy beard and a light stubble. Researchers are unsure why, but they have their guesses.
“Beards consistently render men with an older, more masculine, socially dominant and aggressive appearance,” explained one. Meanwhile, another researcher posits, “They indicate a male’s ability to successfully compete socially with other males for resources.”
Facial scars are only attractive on men, not women. A study in the Personality and Individual Differences found that women considered men with a facial scar more appealing when it comes to short-term relationships.
“Women may have rated scarring as an attractive quality for short-term relationships because they found it be a symbol of masculinity, a feature that is linked to high testosterone levels and an indicator of good genetic qualities that can be passed on to offspring,” Rob Burriss, an evolutionary psychologist, said in a University of Liverpool press release. “Men without scars, however, could be seen as more caring and therefore more suitable for long-term relationships.”