I’ve begun reading Geoffrey Jones‘ (the Isidor Straus Professor of Business History at Harvard University) new book, Beauty Imagined. Rather than writing a traditional review, I’ll post comments about some of the information most relevant to the psychology of beauty as I read through the book. To start, humans spend $330 billion dollars a year (world-wide) on fragrances, cosmetics, and toiletries. Assuming 501 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide, it appears we spend about as much money on f,c & t’s as we do on coffee. But, rounding up, NATO spends close to 3x and the United States spends close to 2x that on military expenditures. L’Oreal is the world’s biggest beauty company and Procter & Gamble is number two. Avon is the biggest brand name, followed by Dove, then Pantene. There is significant variation in the types of beauty products that are consumed in different regions/nations:
- Europeans, proportionally, spend more on fragrance and skin care than Americans
- Americans likewise spend more on make-up than do Europeans
- The Asian-Pacific region accounts for 6% of the fragrance market and 40% of the skin care market
- China’s skin-care market is 4x the size of its make-up market
- Skin-lightening products are significant in Asian markets, but not elsewhere
Another interesting point: the beauty industry makes health/hygiene products (like soap and toothpaste) and “artifice” products (like make-up, styling products for hair, etc.).
A recent study (Karremans, et.al. 2010) that compared the preferences of blind and sighted men for the shape of adjustable dress forms with one of two WHRs (.70 and .84) has been getting some coverage in the popular press. Nineteen blind from birth adult males (aged 27-72 with a mean of 45.5) and 38 sighted males (with similar age range, variance, and means) were included in the study. Nineteen of the sighted men were randomly assigned to a blindfold condition and 19 were in a sighted condition. After feeling the mannequin with their hands, while paying special attention to the waist/hip area, all subjects rated the two dress forms on a 1-10 scale for attractiveness (only men in the sighted condition saw the mannequin). While the authors do not report combined means, the mannequin with the .70 whr averaged about a 7.5 rating while the mannequin with the .84 whr averaged a rating of about 6.5.
While there were no statistically significant differences between any of the group ratings (all 3 groups preferred the smaller whr), the authors emphasize that there were substantially different effect sizes between the blind and sighted subjects with regard to the strength of whr preference. A significant portion of the discussion section elaborates on the implications of these differences in effect size. Problematically, these sorts of effect sizes can readily result from chance in samples of this size, suggesting to me that the discussion of what these effect size differences might mean is superfluous (Fan, 1999).
The authors do reasonably conclude that, pending replication, the visual channel does not seem required to establish a preference in males for a smaller whr in females. This result suggests two interesting possibilities:
- arguments based on visual characteristics of the whr preference in males may require significant qualification
- since whr preference is not sensory channel specific (that is, it is not limited to the visual channel) it seems less likely that a specifically evolved mechanism is behind this preference
- the authors offer 3 possible classes of explanation for their data and do not overly emphasize the possibility of an evolved disposition
- Only two whrs were used: .70 (a reasonable optimal) and .84 (a “typical” higher value)
Karremans, J., Frankenhuis, W., & Arons, S. (2010). Blind men prefer a low waist-to-hip ratio Evolution and Human Behavior, 31 (3), 182-186 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.10.001
The Louis Vuitton fall 2010 collection, presented by Marc Jacobs in Paris last month, showcased models with more size, shape, and age diversity than is characteristic in runway shows. Both MJ and LV deserve some acknowledgement for challenging beauty stereotypes. At the time of this writing, shots of the models on the runway can be seen here, and sans fards head shots (duplicated to the right) can be seen here. I suspect that the point of releasing the head shots image is to underscore that ordinary women are beautiful by showing how ordinary beautiful women can look. Comments on the images at BuzzFeed are mixed, but, mostly in the omg (‘oh my god’), wtf (‘what the f**k’), and ew (‘expression of disgust’) categories. Most of the models are not wearing makeup, though, for example, Elle Mcpherson is (bottom right). But, of course, there is more to this image’s impact than just a lack of make-up on the models’ faces. The deadpan expressions on most of the models and the ‘bad-hair’ contribute substantially to the super-ordinary appearance of these models (some of whom earn millions of dollars a year as models – and note: if make-up was all that mattered, supermodels could not command these kinds of salaries).
In addition to the subject dependent variables of make-up, hair, and expression; technical decisions about how to produce these images also contribute to their impact. Three stand-out:
- perspective distortion
- unflattering lighting
- unflattering exposure/contrast/levels or curves adjustments
Perspective distortion can result from the use of a wide angle lens and is illustrated here:
The top image illustrates the distorting effects of the use of a wide angle lens while the bottom image shows a distortion-free representation. This type of distortion appears visible in the models’ heads/faces and contributes to the “alienesque” appearance of some of the models.
Unflattering shadows exist on each face. It appears that models posed in front of a wall, with a window to their left front. This sort of lighting is not used when a photographer is attempting to take a flattering image.
The exposure/contrast/levels or curves adjustments vary with each portrait: most wash-out features/details in unflattering ways.
All-in-all, rather than being a ‘sans fards’ (without artifice) image, it appears that pre-photoshop, old-school photographic rules/techniques were intentionally ignored in order to make these supermodels appear super-ordinary.
Gunn et.al. (2009), comparing a number of aged/aging twinned and non-twinned subjects (some of the non-twins were of different ages), have concluded that the primary indicators of aging in women are:
- skin wrinkling
- hair graying
- lip height (measured from the “vermillion border on the philtral crest” (the high points of the upper lips spaced around the philtral groove [below the center of the nose]) to the lowest point on the lower lip – in this case, adjusted for face height due to the use of non-standard distances from face-to-camera in the making of the stimulus photos
These differences are visible in the composite photos below.
- thinning hair
- uneven skin tone/pigmented spotting
- more prominent nasolabial folds (the creases that run from the corners of the nose to the corners of the mouth – primarily resulting from changes in fat deposition associated with aging)
- possibly: receding hair
Interestingly, heritability analyses of this data indicate that signs of aging in skin are influenced equally by genetic and environmental differences; that lip height, hair graying and recession are primarily influenced by genetic factors; and that hair thinning was influenced primarily by environmental factors.
All-in-all, an interesting study and a solid contribution to the literature on aging with some implications for the psychology of beauty.
- Subjects are all caucasian/northern european
Gunn, D., Rexbye, H., Griffiths, C., Murray, P., Fereday, A., Catt, S., Tomlin, C., Strongitharm, B., Perrett, D., Catt, M., Mayes, A., Messenger, A., Green, M., van der Ouderaa, F., Vaupel, J., & Christensen, K. (2009). Why Some Women Look Young for Their Age PLoS ONE, 4 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008021
Other duties have taken me away from the blog work – but, I’m back and at it! I’m starting with comments today. Thanks for your patience!
Still briefly, but more seriously, I suspect there was some worthwhile content: but I was turned-off by the program’s style and stopped watching after about 10 minutes.
Platek & Singh (2010) report that stimuli depicting optimal waist-hip ratios (~0.70) activate the “reward center” in men’s brains; while stimuli depicting body mass index do not. They conclude that BMI preferences are therefore more culturally determined and, by suggestion, that WHR preferences are the result of evolved psychological mechanisms. I will point-out at the outset: this conclusion is not supported by their data.
An example of the stimuli used in this research appears to the right (from Singh & Randall, 2007). The stimuli consist of partial body photographs of women who have had fat surgically removed from their abdomens and surgically implanted into their buttocks. The result is that each woman more-or-less maintains the same BMI while exhibiting a more attractive WHR. (For a criticism of over-interpreting the significance of the current studies using micrograft surgery, click here). In this study, fMRIs were taken while men viewed these images. Platek & Singh found that “reward centers” in the brain were activated by stimuli depicting more optimal WHRs; while stimuli depicting variation in BMI did not.
- No stimuli depicted an optimally attractive BMI (range – apparently – was from 21.13-26.36; optimally attractive BMI is ~18-19)
- Stimuli consisted of only a limited area of each woman’s body
- Activation of the “reward center” only indicates that the viewer finds the stimulus rewarding
- Activation of the “reward center” does not imply innate preferences or the activation of an evolved psychological mechanism
- Caution should be maintained in interpreting fMRI data involving “reward centers” in the brain as a recent study of test-retest reliabilities in these measurements revealed correlation coefficients (ICCs) ranging from -0.15-0.44) (Fliessbach et.al., 2010)
- Remember that arguments – even weak ones – which utilize topographical depictions of brain activity can be unusually persuasive (McCabe, 2007)
- This study provides some objective confirmation that men’s attractiveness ratings correspond to the activation of “reward centers” in the brain
The methodology used here does not provide a convincing head-to-head comparison of the relative importance of BMI or WHR in attractiveness ratings. It also does not provide evidence of an innate preference for WHR nor of a cultural influence on BMI preference.
Fliessbach, K., Rohe, T., Linder, N., Trautner, P., Elger, C., & Weber, B. (2010). Retest reliability of reward-related BOLD signals NeuroImage, 50 (3), 1168-1176 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.036
MCCABE, D., & CASTEL, A. (2008). Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning☆☆☆ Cognition, 107 (1), 343-352 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.07.017
Steven M. Platek, & Devendra Singh (2010). Optimal Waist-to-Hip Ratios in Women Activate Neural Reward Centers in Men PLoS ONE : 10.1371/journal.pone.0009042
Singh, D., & Randall, P. (2007). Beauty is in the eye of the plastic surgeon: Waist–hip ratio (WHR) and women’s attractiveness Personality and Individual Differences, 43 (2), 329-340 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2006.12.003