The beauty myth

Published: Sunday 15 May 1994

-- WHAT on earth is beauty? Recent research shows that people -- Caucasian and Mongoloid alike -- prefer faces with features and shapes far removed from the average (Nature, Vol 368, No 6468).

This finding challenges an earlier hypothesis that linked beauty, or attractiveness, to a composite of the average facial features of a population. The theory was based on the principle that during evolution, extreme traits are weeded out by natural selection. So people with average physical properties are advantaged because they have the best chance of survival. It follows that to maximise survival fitness, one would be attracted to and mate with "average" partners.

But psychologists D I Perrett and K A May from St Andrews University in Scotland and S Yoshikawa from the Otemon Gakuin University in Japan used computer-generated pastiches of Caucasian and Japanese faces to show that as facial differences from the average became more acute, the faces became more attractive both to Japanese and to Caucasian observers. This suggests that aesthetic judgments of facial shape are similar across different cultural backgrounds.

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