About The POB

Beauty equals goodness – at least in many human social evaluations.  This blog is about the scientific study of beauty.  My professional exploration of beauty evolved slowly.  Originally, I became interested in the technical aspects of beauty while teaching psychology part-time.  There were two reasons for this: my students found beauty an intrinsically engaging topic.  I was also developing my photographic niche – in case the part-time teaching did not develop into full-time teaching – and I found myself working more and more with beautiful women who wanted the most beautiful photographs possible.  I began to focus on what contributed to beauty in the photographs of women: hair, lighting, make-up, posture & expression, digital editing, etc. 

As a full-time academic and photographic hobbyist, my emphasis has reversed.  Previously, I used the psychology of beauty of inform my photography.  Now I will use my developed aesthetic to inform my work on the psychology of beauty.

Wayne Hooke

  1. Danny McCaslin
    February 21, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Hi, I’m Danny McCaslin, author of The Phrenologist’s Notebook blog. I have a strange question for you. Did you write “A Review of Thought-Field Therapy” in the journal Traumatology in 1998? If so, I recently used your paper as a source for a paper I’m publishing later this year. If not, well, sorry to bother you…

    • whooke
      February 22, 2009 at 7:57 am

      Hi Danny,

      I did write that. I have to confess that I lost interest in that stuff….. I’d love to read your paper, though.

      Wayne

  2. Nadia Hassan
    March 9, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    hey I just wanted to say something. You repeatedly discuss symmetry as a highly attractive trait. For what it’s worth, Jason Weeden and John Sabini performed a meta-analysis in late 2004 and found measurable symmetry accounts for less than 3% of the variance in men’s facial attractiveness and less than 1% of the variance in women’s facial attractiveness. They used studies that measured symmetry objectively.

    So, symmetry is not one of the features that is usually considered attractive.

    Also, I want to raise two issues about some of your blog discussion. With regards to the Rilling et. al study and lack of preferred WHR, most mate selection and treatment does involve ‘normal people.’ If there are relatively few women with an ideal WHR or low WC in a normally distributed population, then there’s something to be said for looking at bodies comparable to those of a general population of women.

    The second is restricted range in the Honekopp study. Also, you mention that these guys appeared as People’s Sexiest Men, but neglect to mention that the Cronbach’s alpha typically used to discuss shared standards was very high in this study. First of all in this paper, the authors noted that almost every subject was rated 2-5 on a scale of 1-7.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18756895

    Secondly, these findings do appear to have substantial importance beyond restricted range. This study found that family members and friends agree to a significantly higher degree than strangers do on attractiveness judgments.

    In order to understand what people consider attractive and to be able to apply it to real life contexts such as mate selection criteria and helping behaviors it is important to examine both shared and private taste.

    http://www.perceptionweb.com/perception/fulltext/p36/p5793.pdf

    So in real life the range is restricted enough to play a meaningful role in treatment, mate selection, etc.

    • whooke
      March 24, 2009 at 11:13 am

      Hi Nadia,
      You’ve made quite a few points! Let me quickly respond. About symmetry: it is a topic I plan to write about sooner rather than later. Briefly, small variations in symmetry tend to have small influences on evaluations of beauty – but large asymmetries will have a significant influence on beauty evaluations. I agree with your assertion that ecological validity is higly useful in beauty research (though it is not required in all beauty research) Studies utilizing a restricted range of stimuli are just not as generalizeable as those that use the full range of stimuli. Evaluations of beauty and mate selection are – at least for most – separable processes.

      There’s some confusion about the Honekopp studies: restricted range isn’t a problem in H’s paper – its effect on shared and personal taste is explored; the friends and family study is a separate and worthwhile paper that I didn’t comment on; I don’t follow how H’s alpha-level has anything to do with what I wrote; and your link doesn’t support your assertion. If you can clarify any of these confusions for me, I will try to repond more to your point. Best wishes, W.

  3. Doc L
    May 27, 2009 at 7:08 am

    “So, symmetry is not one of the features that is usually considered attractive.”

    I don’t think any of Nadia’s criticisms are legit, frankly. I don’t know of a single researcher who wouldn’t agree that symmetry is important for attractiveness. Indeed, research has found it to be highly important in both face and body studies, and a plethora of animal literature suggests that this relationship exists across many different species and is, in fact, possibly linked to genetic fitness. I further don’t see how a high Cronbach’s alpha could be phrased in such a way as to suggest that it’s a negative thing.

    I think Nadia needs to do a bit more reading.

  4. Sarah-Jane Bridger
    January 15, 2010 at 7:25 am

    I found your blog whilst researching an article I am writing on eyelashes and beauty of eyes. As this seems to be your point of expertise I was wondering if you could offer a few thoughts on some questions, I would be extremely grateful as I am desperate to add some intellectual depth from an academic to the superficial subject I have been assigned. My email is sarahjanebridger@hotmail.co.uk, I really hope to hear from you.

    Eyes have been dubbed “the mirror to our souls”, why do you think this is?

    Why do drag queens go to the extreme with their eyelashes?

    What signals do you think false eyelashes send out?

    Why would do women wear false eyelashes?

    • whooke
      January 16, 2010 at 5:03 pm

      Hi Sarah,

      I have a few quick thoughts – though I’ll dodge the question about “eyes being the mirror/window to the soul” – since this is a science-focussed blog. False eyelashes are most likely usually intended to make the wearer more feminine/attractive by accentuating a sexual dimorphism:

      http://psychologyofbeauty.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/androgyny-capitulates-to-cosmetology/

      In the case of drag queens – or anyone on stage – false eyelashes will be more visible from a distance, again, accentuating the wearer’s femininity. I’d guess the same intent/effect would apply when false lashes are used for night-time events.

      Hope this helps!

      Wayne

  5. Sarah-Jane Bridger
    January 18, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Thank you so much! Great help.

  6. Stijn
    March 25, 2010 at 4:06 am

    have you seen the news stories on the formula for the perfect hourglass figure?

    for example: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/fashionnews/6967283/Formula-for-the-perfect-hourglass-figure.html

    i can not seem to find the Dr David Holmes (University of Manchester) that they cite, let alone any scientific papers by him

    i would appreciate any comments or references

    regards, Stijn

    • whooke
      April 25, 2010 at 11:33 am

      I’ve not heard of this one until following your link. The David Holmes in the article is probably this one: http://www.psychology.mmu.ac.uk/staff/psychology_academic/dr_david_holmes.htm. This DH is at Manchester Metropolitan University and his faculty web page does indicate that he has expertise in dieting and body image. There does not seem to be a David Holmes on the faculty at the University of Manchester. About the formula: there’s no doubt that we’ll be able to come up with more subtle formulas for body attractiveness that will include more data than whr and bmi (as an example: this article uses waveform analysis and does include more slice points than whr calculations do (http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/269/1506/2205.abstract). The categories in Holmes’ formula do contain elements that are shown or are likely to be relevant to attractiveness ratings, but, absent solid published research I would urge caution in relying on this formula.

      Wayne

    • hannah
      March 4, 2011 at 11:31 am

      no dave holmes is one of my lecturers he works at mmu not man uni

  7. Angie
    June 18, 2010 at 6:08 am

    Hi

    I came across your blog while doing research for my thesis on the evolution of the beauty industry in Asia. I’m working on my psychology of beauty chapter and trying to find answers as to why Chinese women are so in love with pale skin. Why do they equate paleness to beauty? I’d like to know if you have any possible answers to this preference.

    I understand that white skin for them represents higher status (I’m assuming this is like when having pale skin in Western civilizations meant you were not doing any labor on the fields, so you were not a peasant but a member of the aristocracy). I want to go further this idea and I’m curious to know if you have any other ideas.

    Thanks in advance for your insight on the subject!

  8. andrea
    August 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    i was wondering if you could help me any with a career choice- i am studying psychology and neuroscience right now, but I dont just want to sit in a lab all day. i would really like to find something that would combine psych/neuroscience and beauty/material world. do you have any suggestions?? thank you for your time,

    Andrea

    • whooke
      August 20, 2010 at 10:26 am

      Hi Andrea,

      Career advice is not my specialty, so, I can’t help much. I do have a few quick thoughts. If you’re going to do psych/neuroscience you’ll need post-grad education. Beauty/attractiveness research is mostly done in social psych and evolutionary psych right now – but there’s no single, direct path. If you do decide on graduate study, I’d recommend applying to schools where the faculty are doing the research you are into.

      Wayne

  9. ana
    April 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Hi! I came across your blog by pure chance. After reading most of it, I must say that this is an absolutely amazing source of knowledge for artists (and not just photographers). It would be great if a course like this could be introduced (even if just as an elective) in art schools.

  10. Mark S.
    April 27, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Hi Wayne,

    I’m doing some research on the effects of attractiveness on fact-finding in the legal context, and I recently came across your blog. It really has an impressive wealth of information! I was wondering if you knew of any online sources (or offline, for that matter), where I could get good samples of paired photographs of real faces (one attractive, one unattractive, but otherwise similar in race, sex, age, and other demographic characteristics) for an experiment I’m trying to set up on the impact of beauty on jury verdicts. Any suggestions you could make about good sources of info would be most helpful; we’ve tried getting research assistants to troll the web to find similar photos, but haven’t gotten results we feel great about.

    Best regards,
    Mark

    • whooke
      July 9, 2011 at 9:48 am

      Hi Mark,

      There isn’t a standard set of photos that are generally used. Anthony Little’s lab has a significant online presence and has published quite a bit using the type of comparisons you’re interested in – so that would be a good place to start:

      http://www.alittlelab.com/

      anthony.little@stir.ac.uk

      Best Wishes,

      Wayne

  11. Ellie
    May 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I’m extremely new to, but interested in, the psychology of beauty. Are there any books you would recommend on the subject?

    • whooke
      July 9, 2011 at 9:54 am

      Hi,

      I don’t have a book to recommend. Books have become less interesting to me – mostly because they are far more likely to emphasize the author’s opinions/perspective at the expense of overlooking complexities in the real data. That being said, my recommendation would be to search the web/amazon and, prior to buying, do an additional search of the book’s title with the word “review” included. You’ll get a variety of links: look for those by academics/professionals in order to help ensure you get solid works that will be worth your time to read.

      Good luck!

      Wayne

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