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  • Author: Krzysztof Kościński x
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Facial attractiveness: General patterns of facial preferences

This review covers universal patterns in facial preferences. Facial attractiveness has fascinated thinkers since antiquity, but has been the subject of intense scientific study for only the last quarter of a century. Many facial features contribute to facial attractiveness: Averageness and symmetry are preferred by males and females, probably because they signal genetic quality and developmental stability. Men prefer highly feminized female faces because they reflect high estrogen levels and low testosterone levels. This indicates that the woman is reproductively healthy. Women, on the other hand, prefer a moderate level of male facial masculinity, since facial masculinity that is too pronounced signals high level of testosterone and, thereby, a poorly developed pro-family personality. In women, facial hair is detrimental to facial attractiveness. In men, the effect is not consistent. Faces with a clear complexion are attractive to both men and women. Men prefer light and smooth skin in women. Positive facial expressions also enhance facial attractiveness. Many factors, in particular skin condition and facial proportions, affect perceived age, which is an important component of facial attractiveness. Men in particular strongly prefer youthful-looking female faces. Facial preferences enable an individual to recognize reproductively fit mates. Therefore, facial preferences are adaptive, although non-adaptive mechanisms related to general brain function also play a role.

Current status and future directions of research on facial attractiveness

The aim of the present paper was to evaluate the current state of knowledge on the perception of facial attractiveness and to assess the opportunity for research on poorly explored issues regarding facial preferences. A theoretical framework of research problems was proposed, within which the current state of knowledge on each topic was estimated. The analysis proved that a disproportional amount of research concerned several topics, while many other topics were addressed by few studies, the results of which being sometimes contradictory. Next, possible obstacles to more comprehensive research are discussed. This leads to the conclusion that the obstacles do not severely hinder investigations of most poorly studied problems. The results of the author's recent studies on some of these topics are also briefly reported. In spite of thousands of studies conducted, facial attractiveness research may be regarded as rather poorly progressed, although prospects for it are good.

Facial attractiveness: Variation, adaptiveness and consequences of facial preferences

This review embraces the following topics: intra- and inter-populational variation of facial preferences, relationship between facial attractiveness and mate value, biological and social effects of the perception of facial attractiveness, credibility of the adaptive perspective on facial preferences, and the phylogeny of facial attractiveness. Its main conclusions are as follows: (1) Many sources of inter-individual variation in assessments of facial attractiveness have been identified, e.g., the age, sex, biological quality, physiological state, personality, and living situation of the judge, as well as previously observed faces, physical similarity of the focal face to the judge's face, and acquaintance with and knowledge of the face owner. (2) Inter-populational consistency in perception of facial attractiveness is substantial and possesses both a biological and a cultural basis. (3) Facial attractiveness is a reliable cue to biological quality of the face owner, e.g., better parasite resistance, physical fitness, reproductive fitness, longevity, less mutational load, higher intelligence and better mental health. (4) Facially attractive people have more sexual partners, marry at a younger age, and remain single less frequently. Thereby, they have higher reproductive success than unattractive individuals. (5) As a whole, research supports the thesis that facial preferences are adaptive, that is, they evolved during the course of biological evolution because they assisted an individual in choosing a mate with good genes or a good personality.

The pattern of facial preferences in boys at early adolescence

Despite numerous studies on perception of facial attractiveness in adults, preferences in adolescents remain poorly characterized. The aim of present study was to explore facial preferences in boys at early adolescence (11-13 years old) and compare them with preferences of men. All males evaluated the same 30 female faces, which were also assessed by independent judges for several perceived features. Regardless of age, boys assessed attractiveness much the same as men, and the strengths of their preferences for specific facial features were similar to those of men. The pubertal maturity (calculated on the basis of the presence of pubic hair at two sessions spaced ten months apart) correlated positively with strength of preference for several facial features (specifically: maturity, sexiness, marital appearance and friendly appearance). This remained true even after controlling for age and psychosexual development, suggesting that sex hormones are involved in the development of facial preferences in pubescent boys.

How do pairs matched in physical attractiveness form if people are unaware of their own attractiveness?

The correlation of physical attractiveness in romantic partners has been widely documented. However, it has also repeatedly been demonstrated that people are largely unaware of their own attractiveness, which raises the question about the mechanism responsible for the within-pair matching. One hitherto unexplored possibility is that low accuracy in attractiveness self-assessments results from methodological drawbacks. Participants were usually asked to rate their attractiveness on a numeric scale, and independent judges evaluated them on the basis of facial photographs. We hypothesized that the accuracy of self-assessment may be increased if (1) participants and judges evaluate the same characteristic, e.g., both groups assess facial attractiveness, (2) own attractiveness is estimated in a comparative manner (with reference to attractiveness of other individuals) rather than by abstract numbers, (3) judges rate attractiveness of people as seen in video clips rather than in photographs. To test these hypotheses we photographed and videotaped faces of 96 women and 78 men. Independent judges rated attractiveness from these photographs and video clips, and the participants assessed own attractiveness in several ways. None of the above hypotheses was confirmed by statistical analysis. We discuss how the within-pair matching in attractiveness can arise, given such poor awareness of own appeal.