Beauty in ‘eh?’ of beholder

Attractive people are easy on the eye while you're looking at them, but chances are you will be unlikely to remember them once you've looked away, according to new research.

"Attractive people profit from multiple advantages in social interactions due to their appealing looks … [they] are more successful in their professions and are helped more readily in dire situations," the authors write in a paper published in scientific journal Neuropsychologia.

But their study also shows that attractive people are less memorable than unattractive or striking people, who usually have more distinctive features.

Researchers from the University of Jena in Germany took 50 test subjects and showed them pictures of people's faces.

Half of the photos were of attractive people and the other half were of unattractive people. All of the photos were of people who were considered to have a similar level of distinctiveness.


"We could show that the test subjects were more likely to remember unattractive faces than attractive ones, when the latter didn’t have any particularly noticeable traits," says the university's Dr Holger Wiese, a psychologist.

"We find very symmetrical and rather average faces appealing," Wiese says.

Health
Facial symmetry speaks to a healthy environment in the womb, which is indicative of a person's health in later life. From an evolutionary perspective, we subconsciously want the best genes and health for our offspring and this can be read in facial symmetry – a healthy person is a sexy person.

"Highly distinctive faces strongly deviate from an average or prototypical face as they, for instance, contain unusually sized or shaped facial feature, such as particularly small eyes, or unusual facial texture or colouration," the authors write.

In phase one, the test subjects were shown the photos for a few seconds each and asked to memorise them. In the second phase, they were asked when they recognised the photos.

"Until now, we assumed that it was generally easier to memorise faces which are being perceived as attractive – just because we prefer looking at beautiful faces," Wiese says.

But this was not the case.

Another interesting outcome of the study was that the test subjects were more likely to think that they had encountered an attractive photo when they hadn't, leading the scientists to detect considerably more false positives.

"We obviously tend to believe that we recognise a face just because we find it attractive," Wiese says.

Although being attractive is generally associated with facial symmetry and "prototypical" faces, however, stunningly beautiful people have distinctive faces. Angelina Jolie, who has been consistently voted one of the most beautiful women in the world, for example, does not have a prototypical face.

"On the one hand, we find very symmetrical and rather average faces appealing … [but] on the other hand, people who are perceived as being particularly attractive stand out by additional traits," Wiese says. "We tend to remember those faces well."

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

What the Biden presidency may mean for Africa

The new US administration has an interest and much expertise in Africa. But given the scale of the priorities the administration faces, Africa must not expect to feature too prominently

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…