The science is in: beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder

The World

It turns out there is no universally beautiful face.

There are some factors, such as symmetrical facial features or clear skin, that are encoded into our genes as attractive traits.

But a study published this week concludes that people disagree with each other about who is attractive about half the time. The study, titled "Individual Aesthetic Preferences for Faces Are Shaped Mostly by Environments, Not Genes," concludes that personal experience and history, not genetic predisposition, account for this difference in taste.

This is especially startling because genetics determine much of our abilities and preferences-- even our ability to recognize different faces is genetic.

"For years there's been art, there's been discussion, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there hadn't been any scientific evidence." said Dr. Laura Germine, one of the leaders of the study, "So we wanted a quantitative study of what influences our judgements of aesthetics, and to investigate where this comes from from a behavioral genetic standpoint." 

To gather this quantitative evidence Germine and her team gathered data from 35,000 volunteers who visited their website Test My Brain. They determined a way to effectively test difference in facial preference, and used this to test 547 pairs of identical twins and 214 pairs of fraternal twins on the attractiveness of 200 faces. Identical twins have the same exact genes, but they still find different faces attractive.


The study used a ranking system to determine individual preferences in facial aesthetics.


Germine concludes this means that much of what inspires our idea of what is attractive is personal history: "The environment of the beholder is what determines the moment-to-moment judgments of attraction. If you're exposed to a face paired with a positive emotion, you are more likely to find that face, and other faces like it more attractive." This means that every social relationship could influence what traits and faces one prefers.

"We looked at adult twins who had been out of the home for 10, 20, 30 years and so had very different life experiences." explained Germine. "The example I always give is the face of your first boyfriend could be one of the shaping factors of our notion of facial attractiveness. If we studied 12-year-old twins the family environment might be the same, and so likely they could find similar faces attractive."

Germine noted that the study didn't look explicitly at romantic attraction but general attraction to facial features. "We tested the attractiveness of male and female faces and people tend to have the same percentage of agreement or disagreement."

Test yourself online here, to see how much you differ from other people on what faces you prefer, and who you find beautiful. 

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