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).
Olson, I. R., & Marshuetz, C. (2005). Facial Attractiveness Is Appraised in a Glance. Emotion, 5(4), 498-502. doi: 10.1037/1528-35220.127.116.118