The science of attractiveness

by Stephanie Chasteen on February 27, 2009

A recent volume of Science News had a feature article about attraction and the evolutionary basis of our conception of what makes someone beautiful.  As writer Elizabeth Quill says (I love this quote) — “For humans, there is osmething captivating and unforgettable about the arrangement of two balls, a point and a horizontal slide on the front of the head.”  Put that way, it’s pretty darn surprising, isn’t it?  Turns out that our brain gets the same dose of dopamine rewards from seeing a pretty face as from food, drugs or money.  Would we press little levers to see pictures of Brad Pitt like a rat presses a button to get doses of cocaine?  Food for thought.

Anyway.  One of the major points of the article was that we find composite faces — those that are very average, with irregular features smoothed out — very attractive.  They figured this out back in the late 19th century when Sir Francis Galton made composite photos of criminals to try to get a prototypical “criminal” face.  He found the result to be surprisingly, well, beautiful.

You can make your own average faces at You can also make a baby by uploading the mother’s and father’s faces!

Here’s one I made using just women’s faces:

And here’s one I made using just men’s faces:

And here’s one using a mix of men and women.  Trust me, the faces I chose were pretty non-beautiful overall.



Also some surprisingly beautiful faces at Anthony Little’s website, I’m struck by how much I like looking at these average faces.  I definitely feel those dopaminergic receptors having a little party.

Symmetry was also mentioned as an aspect of attractiveness (a symmetrical face is more attractive), which can be a sign of health.  I’ve heard the “symmetrical faces are attractive” argument before — this article suggests that symmetry may not be as important as indicated previously. Here’s a face made symmetrical and antisymmetrical.

Also, whether a face is more masculine or more feminine can affect its attractiveness, and women are especially affected by these factors when they’re ovulating!

Read the original Science News article and see some more interesting pictures of morphed faces.


james February 28, 2009 at 5:05 am

The attractiveness studies are interesting.
What’s really going to be interesting is dissecting what’s unique about each person’s attraction – how has nature engrained in each person an inherent “yay” or “nay” attractive test, and why I find one woman’s face attractive and someone else may disagree.

james February 28, 2009 at 5:06 am

Also.. there’s something to the asymmetrical stuff… the girl on the left is hideous when her ears are all outta wack… maybe ugly = assymetrical isn’t just true with attraction to the opposite sex! It’s the same mechanisms *symmetry* in what makes a mathematical equation beautiful. pretty neat.

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