Archive for November, 2009

Beauty in a Glance

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Beauty can be perceived very quickly. Olson & Marshuetz (2005) showed that masked presentations of attractive faces (average rating: 7.44 with a range of 6.48-8.67) can be differentiated from unattractive faces (average rating: 2.45 with a range of 1.33-3.52). Faces were presented for 13ms (subjects were unable to accurately report whether a face had even been seen). The average rating of the masked and briefly presented attractive faces was 5.79 while that of the unattractive faces was 4.71 (p<.01).


  • Careful masking procedures
  • Random presentation of stimuli
  • Attractive/Unattractive faces matched for emotional expression


  • Subjects were able to differentiate between the attractive and unattractive faces, but, not as cleanly as under untimed rating conditions. With untimed ratings, the mean difference between the attractive and the unattractive groups was 5 points (on a 10-point scale); while the masked presentations resulted in a difference of only 1 point.

This data suggests that some evaluation of facial beauty happens rapidly (with a masked stimulus lasting only 13ms) and outside of awareness (subjects were unable to accurately indicate whether they had seen a face or not).

Wayne Hooke

Olson, I. R., & Marshuetz, C. (2005). Facial Attractiveness Is Appraised in a Glance. Emotion, 5(4), 498-502. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.5.4.498

Categories: Aesthetics, The Face

Does Size Matter?

November 16, 2009 2 comments

According to Rebecca Sear and Frank Marlowe (2009), not to Hadza women. For the record, as used here, the word “size” means “height”. If you were thinking something more explicitly sexual (like penis size), it might matter. 40% of Hadza women report valuing looks in a mate (which in the just-linked survey includes a category labelled “good genitals”). But in regard to our specific question, Sear & Marlowe found that the proportion of female-taller marriages among the Hadza did not differ from chance expectations and that any reference to a man’s body size was mostly absent in Hadza women’s elaborations of what they looked for in a husband. Given that Hadza women tend to have more say in marriage decisions, this suggests that height is not viewed as particularly important to women in this society. This article has been attracting some attention – and the discussion has been mostly worthwhile and constructive. I think two things should be emphasized. The first is that this sort of data does not challenge a thoughtful and scientific approach to evolutionary psychology. Genes can influence behavior without reaching the comprehensive level of instinct. Counterexamples can inform, but do not end the discussion. The second is that this sort of data does present challenges both to some rather strong specific assertions about human male height in recent research (Nettle, 2005), (Pawlowski,, 2000), (Mueller & Mazur, 2002) and to the sometimes found tendency to over interpret the evolutionary causes of specific data sets.


  • This study is part of a very thoughtful approach to studying evolutionary anthropology.
  • The Hadza continue to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.


  • It is possible that the Hadza are atypical in their approach to male height – since they are closely related to pygmy populations:with males averaging about 160 cm in height (5’3″), with less variation in height than in most other populations.

Wayne Hooke

Image courtesy of Idobi/Wikipedia Commons (2007)


ResearchBlogging.orgSear, R., & Marlowe, F. (2009). How universal are human mate choices? Size does not matter when Hadza foragers are choosing a mate Biology Letters, 5 (5), 606-609 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0342

Sans Fards

November 2, 2009 7 comments

French Elle’s April 2009 edition highlighted make-up free beauty. Given the social effects of the “perfectly” beautiful images in contemporary media, Elle’s edition is noteworthy. Three covers were used – the crop below right is of the one featuring Monica Bellucci. The photo above right is from Wikipedia Commons – showing Ms. Bellucci in make-up. So, what’s different? To my eye, the most obvious effects of makeup are: greater contrast between the eyes/lips and the surrounding skin; a more even skin tone, and more color in the cheeks. Increasing contrast between the eyes/lips and the surrounding skin enhances a human sex difference: having the effect of hyper-feminizing women (Russell, in press). Rather than lightening the skin, the usual technique is to darken the eyes and lips. Evening the skin tone makes faces appear more attractive, youthful, and healthy (Fink,, 2006). Increasing cheek redness likely makes faces – especially women’s faces – appear healthier (Stephen,, 2009).

I have discussed Russell’s work on sex differences in facial contrast in a recent blog entry – so I will not review that here. In a novel approach, Fink and colleagues converted skin tone information from digital photographs of actual faces into 3D illustrations that kept facial structure, hair color and style, and eye color constant (see below). Raters then evaluated the 3D creations for youthfulness, age, health, and attractiveness. The correlation between the estimated age of the 3D figures and the actual age of the photographed women was good (r=.708, p<.01). The estimated age range for the 3D figures appears to be 20-31; while the actual age range of the photographed women was 11-76 (mean=37.39, S.D.=17.35). This suggests that skin coloration alone contributed about 12 years to age estimates in this study and that other cues to aging may have a larger individual impact. Estimated age correlated with attractiveness (r=-.557, p<.01), healthy appearance (r=-.543, p<.01), and youthfulness (r=-.871, p<.01).

I am enthusiastic about the use of digital imaging in the study of beauty. But, to my eye, there is something just a little off with these images. My reaction leads me to one caution: as the use of computer generated stimuli become more common in beauty research, the risk of getting stuck in the uncanny valley becomes greater. While still mostly theoretical (but a quick search of Science Direct suggests that more empirical data is forthcoming), the notion of the uncanny valley is that as robots and 3D animations become almost human-like, they will produce an “uncanny” negative reaction – one that could interfere with beauty research.

Some carefully controlled research from Stephen and colleagues suggests a reason for the typical use of rouge in women’s cosmetic applications: to appear healthy. The research under discussion does not directly address reddened cheeks, but did find a tendency for increased levels of the color “oxygenated blood-red” in faces that appeared healthy to evaluators. All-in-all, recent research suggests that artfully applied makeup should increase ratings/evaluations of femininity, youthfulness, health, and attractiveness.

Wayne Hooke

ResearchBlogging.orgFINK, B., GRAMMER, K., & MATTS, P. (2006). Visible skin color distribution plays a role in the perception of age, attractiveness, and health in female faces☆ Evolution and Human Behavior, 27 (6), 433-442 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2006.08.007

Stephen, I. D., Coetzee, V., Law Smith, M., & Perrett, D. I. (2009). Skin Blood Perfusion and Oxygenation Colour Affect Perceived Human Health. PLoS ONE, 4(4), e5083. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005083

Russell, R. (in press). A sex difference in facial pigmentation and its exaggerationby cosmetics. Perception.

Categories: Methodology, The Face

Asymmetry in Supermodels

November 1, 2009 2 comments

A common goal in most oculoplastic procedures is to increase symmetry. In an effort to establish baseline measures in attractive subjects, Ing (2006) measured ocular asymmetries in male and female models’ photos in fashion magazine advertisements (e.g., Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Vogue, Gentleman’s Quarterly, etc.). They found significant asymmetries in:

  • horizontal fissure width (1)
  • upper central lid fold (5)
  • upper temporal lid fold (7)
  • central eyebrow height (9)
  • temporal eyebrow height (11)
  • medial canthal to midline distance
  • pupil to midline distance
  • orbital distopia (asymmetrically displaced eyes)

While I applaud the effort to establish realistic expectations of beauty, I do not believe that the methods used in this study can reach valid conclusions regarding each of the numbered measures in the bulleted list above. Each of these measures can vary based on facial expression (if you like, you can demonstrate this point to yourself in front of a mirror). Even in cases where fashion models’ expressions appear neutral in a magazine ad, we cannot assume that subtle asymmetries are not the result of subtle expressions – as opposed to assuming they result from structural asymmetries.

That being said, attractive models are not always perfectly symmetrical. A cursory visual inspection of beauty shots (essentially, close-ups of faces intended to look beautiful) will reveal asymmetries in beautiful models that are visible to the naked eye.

Wayne Hooke

ResearchBlogging.orgIng E, Safarpour A, Ing T, & Ing S (2006). Ocular adnexal asymmetry in models: a magazine photograph analysis. Canadian journal of ophthalmology. Journal canadien d’ophtalmologie, 41 (2), 175-82 PMID: 16767204