I did research on facial attractiveness for years at a major university and published in the field. AMA
Apr 21st 2013 by norcross1 • 37 Questions • 1984 Points
Thanks for all of the interest & the questions (and the Gold) Since I started 12 hours ago, I am gonna take a break for a bit. Woe...I have 800+ emails. I'm not even joking. (http://imgur.com/oVQSNlh). 35 pages with 25 on each page. Well, I will do the best I can. Sorry if you don't hear back very soon.
The most surprising discovery to me (not in my lab but people I know) is that a man's body odor (smelled by women) can reveal how symmetrical their faces and bodies are. And, this is often correlated to attractiveness. This was done by making men wear no deodorant and plain t-shirts for 2 weeks while college aged females came in to smell their BO & rate it... fun study. Some follow up studies debunked this slightly & added a few twits, but the gist is the same AFAIK...it's been a while since I followed this line of research.
So... better(?) odor = more symmetrical or vice versa? Or how was the odor described?
I think all the odors were "bad" - but they ranked them...and the ones they "liked" the most were correlated to men who were more symmetrical and they did the same for women (smelling men). The study was done a few times w/ different variations but this is the one I found just now: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10380676
How big of a factor would you say facial attractiveness is when compared to other factors?
(Note: This was the first question i was asked and the "other factors" wasn't clear...if it was "face vs. body" or something like that...I'll just leave it as is, though it is not a great answer).
That is a hard question to answer because overall attractiveness is an amalgamation of many things that can range widely depending on who is evaluating a person. Depending on the culture, it can include things like family heritage, intellect, humor, facial attraction, body type, and a lot more.
I didn't really get into research beyond the face, but what I would say is that I think the answer to your question depends on a lot of things such as gender & the environment the person is in. For example, men and women prioritize different things when evaluating someone's overall attractiveness. Men rarely prioritize height, whereas women will prioritize this more frequently. So, facial attractiveness may be less important than height for some women (just as a random example - and of course there would be more factors here too). Also, some cultures prioritize facial attractiveness & sense of humor more than body (I could name one - but I'll leave the stereotypes out for now) - whereas others prioritize how well your body looks over everything else (these countries are also stereotyped often).
If you look at the rates of plastic surgery on the face vs. body - that is also an indicator. In Brazil, there is much more body work done per capita (lipo, breast implants, butt implants). In colder climates, people get more face work done (nose jobs, face lifts, botox, etc). Does that mean it's actually more important in attraction? Maybe - people's preferences can shift based on the environment they are raised in (priorities shift too, to suit the environment from a evolutionary standpoint).
n Brazil, there is much more body work done per capita (lipo, breast implants, butt implants). In colder climates, people get more face work done (nose jobs, face lifts, botox, etc). Does that mean it's actually more important in attraction? Maybe - people's preferences can shift based on the environment they are raised in.
Isn't that just because the face is much more visible during daily life than the body in colder climates?
There's an age old interaction between nature and nurture (nurture being "climate" here) that can be kind of complex. Did climate affect preference for certain body types or faces - or did this preference exist independent of climate? It's probably some of both. For example, what happens when someone from a warm climate moves to a cold climate? Do they still look at bodies in the same way? (I think they do) Do they have a different appreciation of facial features? (probably not - at least not right away) So... that's sort of where I was going with that. It's hard to know for sure bc nobody has done a controlled study on it.
HA - i just died! (ETA Thanks for the RIPs)
They'd all hate me bc I'm beautiful.
Yeah I have the knowledge to fix things in photoshop - but surgeons don't have the capacity to fix them in reality.
I'll post more about this later...since it went to the top... I might be able to find some pics that will interest people - but I don't want it to be a distraction. (i.e. I dont want to just talk about myself for the whole AMA)
We're going to need some proof. I mean you can't go around telling people you're unattractive and expect us to believe it.
lol I'll email the mods.
Prominent cheekbones & other "extraordinary" features can be attractive for a few reasons based on evolutionary psychology.
First, there is a theory called "costly signaling"* that means that if you see someone with high, broad cheekbones (or any "extraordinary" feature), this means that their body had to go through all of this extra "expense" to build and support those cheekbones..and this person has more "reproductive fitness" (better genes).
Second, cheekbones support the eyes - so broad cheekbones and wide set eyes (on a man in particular) indicate that he is probably a better athlete / hunter than someone with sunken cheekbones and poorly supported eyes. The cheek bone (and orbital rim - which it is attached to) was also important in supporting the eye during injury - which is crucial for survival.
Cheekbones have different levels of attractiveness in men and in women -and the ideal shape and size differ. In men, the "population average" cheekbone is the most attractive. In women, the "population average + slightly feminized" is the most attractive.
I hope that made sense, but ask a follow-up if it did not.
(*) The exact name of the theory is used in different ways - but this is how I first learned it.
Do you think someone can be attractive if they don't fit exactly within what the science says is best? have you ever thought someone was beautiful who didn't fit into what you have researched? edit: sorry for the poorly phrased question, I have been on reddit so long today I think I have turned my brain to goo
Yeah, there are a lot of other factors that can influence things from personality to body. And, subjective perceptions of attractiveness are 30-40% of the equation. The same is true in the opposite direction. People w/ perfect facial features who are depressed (in static photos) will be perceived as less attractive.
What is the most "important" or prioritized among facial features for men? (ie. nose, chin, eyes, etc).
Personally, I think the length of the midface is the most important feature...though there is no paper that has determined the single most important feature (since we perceive faces as a whole anyway)... But I would say that having a short midface, combined with wide set, forward set eyes and a wide jaw. These traits are the perfect hunter / athlete signal for a variety of reasons based in evolutionary psychology.
You probably never heard of a short midface before, but to determine it - measure the distance between your pupils. Then, measure the distance between the top of your nose (the midpoint of your eyes), and the middle of your lips. Then divide these two numbers (with the horizontal eye number on top and the vertical number on the bottom). The lower the number is, the more compact your midface is and the more attractive you would tend to be. If it is 0.8-1.2 that is good. Outside of that range, it's not so good...almost universally. Generally, the closer to 1 the better. So, I'd say that is the most important (even though it's not a "feature"), though other things matter.
How is skin quality more important than you ever thought?
I thought it maybe mattered 5% - but studies keep showing that it matters a lot more than that - and it is correlated to all kinds of health variables. When we do studies, we have to control for it carefully...we have to "Average out" everyone's skin color and take out any moles, blemishes, and dark under-eye shadows or that will affect the results of what we're really trying to study. If you don't control for skin quality, you end up seeing huge effects of skin quality that are just bizarre.
So what is quality skin? Is there something more to it that smooth and featureless?
basically this: http://imgur.com/wwpPJZt
But the main point of good skin is that it shows hydration, good blood flow, lack of disease, physical resilience (limited scars), and maybe even strong immunity. These are things people had to worry about more 100-30,000 years ago more than today. Moles (historically) could have been cancer and abscesses could result in infection & indicate disease. Acne is more complicated bc of its somewhat complex causes.
Blue eyed men view blue eyed women as more attractive, but brown eyed men do not have this preference. It's odd - but that's what the research shows. (I am realizing, after answering 10+ questions already that there are no straightforward answers in this field!)
ETA: These studies are just averages - not absolutes...so of course blue eyed men might like brown eyed women, etc...the studies just find a trend or average and test for statistical significance. It means the blue eyed population is a little different from the brown eyed one - but certainly not 100%
I am not aware of any published studies on this. I think the effect of eyelashes is related to their ability to make the eyes seem stronger - which has evolutionary / survival implications.
Have you done studies on men with beards, and if so, does a beard help, hurt or 'it depends'. Which style(s) of beards are best, and can a beard hide otherwise negative aspects of a face's shape?
From research papers:
Male faces displaying a full beard were considered the most masculine, aggressive, socially mature, and older. Males with a light beard were considered the most dominant. Males with light stubble were considered to be the most attractive, light stubble was also preferred for both short- and long-term relationships. These findings are discussed in terms of age preferences and good-genes models.
Beards augment perceptions of men's age, social status, and aggressiveness, but not attractiveness.
The male beard is not obviously related to phenotypic quality and may have evolved through a process of runaway intersexual selection. (It doesn't indicate any kind of good genes, etc)
I think the style would have to depend on the person. It could exaggerate existing asymmetry in some cases... or it could mask it. Also, these studies used uniform, relatively dense beards which say "secondary sexual characteristic" not patchy / scraggly beards.
Can I PM you a picture of my face and you tell me some stuff about it?
Sure - but it might take me a while... also - if you can ask specific questions & tell me how much freedom I have to criticize you, it will help much more. I used to do it for plastic surgery patients, and they wanted VERY heavy criticism. The average person might feel ripped to shreds by this, though.
1.03 is better than 1.1...smaller is better.
You keep saying criticism might be very harsh. Do you have an example where you analyzed a face completely candidly? I want to know how bad it can get.
I just did one above - the woman from the historical pic. It's not brutal bc she's pretty - but it can get brutal when you tell someone they have certain features responsible for their lack of attractiveness that cannot be changed. I did this on my own face - and I wasn't happy with myself...I'm still not.
The thing is - I have been answering questions for a few hrs straight and I haven't been able to do a full analysis until now...a good one takes about 30 min & I usually move things around in photoshop to confirm my thoughts... so that was a quick 10-15 minute one of someone pretty - so i didn't have to couch everything.
Is there a particular face shape that is deemed "most attractive" ?
Are you thinking about "round vs oval vs square"? Those terms are generally not descriptive enough - but I think the best way to answer this is that people with short mid-faces are the most attractive. To determine this for yourself, measure the distance between your pupils. Then, measure the distance between the top of your nose (the midpoint of your eyes), and the middle of your lips. Then divide these two numbers (with the eye number on top and the vertical number on the bottom). The lower the number is, the more compact your midface is and the more attractive you would tend to be. If it is 0.8-1.2 that is good. Outside of that range, it's not so good...almost universally. Every other "face shape" question has a qualification.
For example, there is also some research into sex-dimorphic (sex typical) face shape. So, men with broad cheek bones and wide, square jaws tending to be more attractive than men without these features. However, women only consider this attractive when they are ovulating or if they have high self esteem about their own bodies. Men consider women attractive w/ the most feminized faces, though - and that's always been straightforward. A feminized face tends to have a compact midface like I described above + wide large eyes, large lips, and a tapered jaw.
What impact does hair have on facial attractiveness? (Particular interest: beards and how a face is framed by hairstyle.)
We always crop out hair in studies so it doesn't have an effect...it has a low correlation to facial attractiveness (around r = 0.3)
In your opinion, what is the purpose of duckface? Does it work?
I've never understood it honestly. It's bizarre - u probably have a better guess than me on why ppl do it.
So, I send you my picture and you'll tell me how ugly I am? Sounds like another great weekend...
Only if you will tell me how ugly I am in return.
I'm really digging all of these studies posted to coincide with each claim made and answer given. I can safely say I'm learning a great deal more from this AMA than from most.
Wow thanks.... I appreciate it. For parts of this, I felt like a performing monkey and for other parts I felt like an idiot bc I didn't know answers to questions that seemed obvious (but they are really complex). I wasn't sure if the link posting was annoying or not..someone was like "I don't have time to read a bunch of abstrats." lol..I'm like - I'm the one answering like 400 questions... and I have to read the abstracts to be accurate.
How important is voice as a factor in sexual attraction?
I don't study voice but here's someone who studies it a LOT:
People often tell my I'm photogenic. Why do you think some people photograph better then others? I don't think any of my features are particularly impressive such as great cheekbones, big full lips or big eyes.
That's a good question. It's a real issue too - in research, we have to take everyone's photo w/o any flash because it drastically alters how people look. People who have stronger facial bones and facial muscles are more photogenic usually when they are put into 2D from 3D. Also, a flash camera can't "wash them out". Also, if you have more angles in your face, you will be more photogenic (more attractive in 2D) than someone who has more of a flat, amorphous face. Wide set, forward set eyes are more photogenic than narrow, deep set (small) eyes. You might also have a short midface (distance between your eyes and lips) which is a huge help for photographers because the lens can exaggerate long faces.