Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or is it in his genes?

Sam, Gaelle, Eman



This picture provides an interesting aspect of facial feature preferences. The distance of the eyes has been altered from those of what a human face should look like. Before continuing on in the reading, we invite the reader to take a guess and select which picture he/she sees as being more attractive. The pictures have been extracted from an episode of the TV show “Brain Games”. It is an interactive show where different scientists (neuroscientist, psychologist, cognitive scientist…) are invited to discuss different discoveries about the human brain. We strongly encourage the reader to watch the entire episode “The Law of Attraction” of the TV show to have a greater understanding of how our brain define attractiveness. The quick pictorial game provides an interesting fact about what we perceive as pretty. People generally define picture number seven as being the most beautiful. This rose the questions: what causes this universal preference for a distinct distance between the eyes as being beautiful and to what extend are our criteria identical? It can be a great hook for an article about the origin of our tendency to favor some specific physical characteristics. Moreover, we tried to find out if the definition of beautiful is innate or learned. We began with the hypothesis that what is perceived as beautiful is predefined by evolution through sexual selection. Then we proceeded by demonstrating cases where this fact is not accurate and how our surrounding influence us. Afterward, we talk about articles which propose other solutions to our debate. This is another conflict between nature and nurture.

Brown, S. (2014). The Law of Attraction: Season three [Brain Games]. United States Natural Geographic Channel.


Nature versus Nurture
In the articles, the notions of nature and nurture will be cited several times. Therefore, it would be interesting to fully understand these terms before diving into the subject. The following book could be useful in order to understand these terms (pp.38-43, Sheese). A quick definition, according to our subject, could be that: a nature-driven theory of beauty perception would argue that our appreciation of beauty is innate as a result of evolution whereas a nurture-driven theory of beauty would argue that the environment shaped our perception as to consider what is pleasing to the eye or not. However, in this book the author uses the terms rationalists to indicate the psychologists who believe in innate knowledge and empiricists to indicate psychologists who believe that knowledge is gained through experience (thus, involving the environment).

Sheese, Ron(2014). Psychology a Prologue: 1st Edition. Canada:Kendall Hunt.

Sexual Selection
Moreover, the term sexual selection will also be used in order to explain the choice of mate in different species for reproduction as a result of evolution. More should be read on the subject in order to have a plausible base before writing the article. The following book offers an overview of the evolution theory (pp.124-127, Weiten) and mate preferences (pp.456-457, Weiten). Furthermore, the terms intrasexual selection and intersexual selection will be used; we thought it would be good to provide the definitions in order to help you better understand the articles related to these terms. Intrasexual selection is referred to as ''the competition between males for access to females'' (p.1047, Pagel) by territorial defense or establishing a hierarchy of dominance, for example, whereas intersexual selection is simply the mating process between male and female. Both happen during breeding season due to the fact that the male, who do not stop at individual mating, try to inseminate as many female as possible which results in competitions between males. Also, since the female can only provide a limited number of eggs at the time and will care for the offspring after mating, the competition is not as intense between females that it is between males.

Weiten,W., & McCann, D.(2013). Psychology:Themes and Variations. Canada: Nelson Education.
Pagel, M (2002). Encyclopedia of Evolution, Vol II. New York: Oxford University Press.


Mating Preferences

Bird Diet and Attraction
This experiment is a good example of sexual selection in bird species. Females will privilege males with green-blue feet because it is a sign of good health and nutrition. In addition, blue-footed booby females varied their investment in the egg depending on the color of the mate's feet. As it is explained in the report of the experiment done on Sula Nebouxii (birds with blue feet). The feet color of those birds changed from white to green-blue depending on their diet and health. In this experiment, the researchers were analyzing if the level of maternal investment in eggs is influenced by the color of the male feet. They knew from previous research that female had the ability to vary different factors that impact the development and the survival of the offspring. One of the factors is the size of the eggs. The smaller the egg, the lower hatching probability. The first year, the researchers colored the feet of the male in a duller color to mimic male in bad health condition after the first egg was laid. They kept track of the variation in the egg size and other feathers for the first egg and the second one. During the second year, they did not color the feet of the birds. Therefore the male continued to express the color related to good health. They found out that some features such as the egg size varied depending on the male feet color. The duller blue resulted in smaller egg therefore a lower chance for the chick to survive. There is a great correlation between the size of the eggs and the paternal feet color. Females gave a greater investment on the second egg if the male is healthy. It is interesting to see how evolution has worked unconsciously on animal preference in order to promote survival. It is an excellent experiment to illustrate how sexual selection can strongly affect the behavior of animals. It is clear that the preference has a huge impact on the development of the chick and its viability.

Dentressangle, F., Boeck, L. & Torres, R. (2008). Maternal investment in eggs is affected by male feet colour and breeding conditions in the blue-footed booby, Sula nebouxii, Behavioral ecology and sociobiology. 6, 1899–1908

Human Evolution and Beauty
This article was written as an argument between two possible views on how the perception of beauty has evolved. The author presents plausible arguments in order to support the theory that facial preference is a result of our adaptation to attractiveness signalling health as a mate quality. On the other hand, the author argues that some theorists believe that beauty perception is only a product of how the human brain perceives the information presented. Finally, the authors argues that both arguments should be considered when discussing the human perception since both could be involved in shaping our perception towards what we know today as beautiful. This article argues that our preferences can be the result of evolution where mates where chosen based on their health; the healthier, the better (pp.212-216, Rhodes). Which can be linked to the sexual selection according to the birds mentioned earlier. Moreover, this article argues that our preference for masculinity in males and femininity in females might be the result of our brain interpreting the potential mate as sexually mature, since dimorphism (when the young boys and girls develop into men and women) happens at puberty (pp. 216-218, Rhodes). They also argue that this might be the explanation behind the males' appreciation towards exaggerated female traits. Therefore, we can say that this article is useful in supporting the view that perception of beauty is in fact the result of evolution since attractiveness was perceived as a sign of health in the possible mate.

Rhodes, G.(2006). The Evolutionary Psychology of Facial Beauty.Annual Reviews of Psychology. 57, 199-226.

Criteria and Mathematics of Beauty

The Standards of Beauty
Science is known to be objective and seeking the truth. On the other hand, art is objective and seeks the beauty. Therefore, this article intend to combine the search for the truth and beauty as one point in common between art and science. Moreover, the article argues that there are two angles for beauty: subjective, which is personal and shaped by ones culture, therefore conditioned and not free. The other angle, objective, is not personal but shaped by rational elements that, in principle, have universal validity. Furthermore, this article (pp. 67-76, Carafoli) can be used in order to support the theory that beauty comes from nature as a result of our attraction to specific criterion of beauty. This article argues that our perception of beauty is in fact partially conditioned (or innate). Thus, several conditions are said to be required in order to consider something (or someone) as ''beautiful'': harmony - which is the equilibrium between the parts and the whole. It was said that in antique Greece, harmony and order were the positive values that opposed primordial chaos. This characteristic goes hand in hand with the next characteristic; symmetry. Finally, parsimony and simplicity. Moreover, this article observe the concept of the golden ratio as a possible mathematical internal predisposition to the appreciation of beauty; this ratio, numerically represented as 1.618, is said to be pleasant to the observer which, once again, supports the hypothesis of beauty perception being the possible result of evolution: the article argues that the figure would resonate with our possible ''internal'' canons that guide our aesthetic appreciation. This paper is interesting in a sense that it gives plausible arguments that support the notion of beauty perception being built-in through the conditions set from evolution.

Carafoli, Ernesto (2013). On Beauty and Truth in Art and Science. Springer, 24,67- 88

Facial Symmetry
As it was said in the preview article, facial symmetry is a feature that defines beauty. The present article is a great evidence of the important of symmetry. The most relevant part of this article is in the description which mention preview publications about the cause of symmetry. The reason for our attraction to symmetry relays in the embryonic development of the infant. Asymmetry in morphological traits are the result of perturbations which occurred during the development of the foetus. Those perturbation can be genetical: mutation of the DNA sequence, excess homozygosity; or environmental: mother’s exposition to extreme temperature, pollution and harmful parasites. Individuals differ in the ability to resist such perturbations. Those developmental complications can be expressed in the form of facial asymmetry. In some species, individuals' asymmetry negatively predicts their fecundity, growth rate, and survival (p. 297). Intrasexual selection and intersexual selection are favors features that indicate the presence of a great number of heritable traits that enhance the viability of the offspring. The experiment done by the researchers is a useful proof of the unconscious preference that individuals have for symmetrical features. They were trying to prove that the more attractive the individual is, the greater number of sexual partner he/she will have. For this study, they measured the facial dimension of participants. They found a positive correlation between the individual’s numbers of partner and the facial symmetry. This is an excellent evidence of sexual selection among humans. Moreover, the preference in partners depends on heavily on the harmony of the facial dimensions.

Thornhill, R. & Gangestad W. S. (1994). Human Fluctuating Asymmetry and Sexual Behavior. Psychological Science.5(5), 297-302.


Beauty Criteria Over Time

Ideal Female Body Types Though History
This video is an interesting view of how the female body requirements, in order to be considered beautiful, changed over time. This is a good example that supports the notion of beauty perception being influenced by the environment through the society standards rather than being innate ie. a result of evolution. If the theory of beauty being a result of evolution was held true, the female body type would remain constant throughout the centuries. Moreover, we can see that different centuries do not respect the natural view of human beauty; women being plausible mate in the sense of looking healthy. We can see that in different era, the ideal body does not look healthy: sometimes too skinny and sometimes too curvy. Moreover, description of the face are sometimes provided where features such as full lips or large eyes, where indicated as beautiful for certain era. Also, this video also engage the subject that women would go through drastic changes in order to fall into the norms of society such as wearing a corset in order to have the cinched waist during the Victorian England era or plastic surgery during the Post-modern Beauty Era.

Cher, Cathleen (Associate Producer). (2015) Women's Ideal Body Type Throughout History. [Motion Picture] Buzzfeedvideo

Women Attraction Towards Softer Traits in Men
In this article, the authors based their research on a previous paper that argued that women were mostly attracted to men who had neonate features (facial features characteristic of infants) such as large eyes; mature features such as prominent cheekbones and a large chin; and expressive features such as a large smile. Therefore in order to test these findings, they performed 3 experiments where women were brought in the lab and asked to evaluate black and white pictures of different men; in the first experiment they were simply asked to evaluate their level of attractiveness. In the second experiment, they were ask to also determine who they would most likely date, marry and have children with. In the last experiment, they were asked to compare beardless and/or smiling men as a correlation to attractiveness. It is important to note that all the men evaluated where white and the women brought in the lab were not as culturally diversified as possible which can eliminate generalizability. However, the conclusions remained the same; women where attracted to men with softer traits.
This article can be used in order to demonstrate how the possible notions of attractiveness can change over time rather than being built-in, as some psychologist would think. It argues the fact women used to be attracted to men displaying masculine features as a sign of dominance, protection and sexual maturity, which can be considered as a product of evolution. However, through this study, they observed that most mature male face were not considered extremely handsome, as it would be assumed. On the contrary, women were more attracted to men with softer features. The same conclusions were brought when analyzing male silhouettes. Some theorists believe that this change in trends results from the women needs for softer characteristics in personality such as affection and warmth.
This article is not long and worth reading, but it would be better to focus on the introduction and the discussions of the first and last experiment.

Barbee, A.P.,Cunnigham,M.R., & Pike,C.L. (1990).What Do Women Want? Facialmetric Assessment of Multiple Motives in the Perception of Male Facial Physical Attractiveness.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 59, 61- 72.

Influence of the Environment

Social Transmission of Facial Preferences
Here is an interesting experiment which gives evidence of influence of others in our decision to define someone as beautiful. They tried to prove that women’s judgment to define pictures of men’s faces as being more attractive on an 8-point scale than another is influenced by the reaction of other women around them. Participants had to choose between two pictures which one is the most attractive. They were able to give rate their preference before observing the other person facial expression and after the observation-step. It turned out that women who observed the person before them smiling while looking at the second picture would change their first choice and define the second picture as being the more attractive. Those for whom the person looking prior to them did not expressed any emotions were more likely to define the second pictures as being slightly less attractive then their original choice. This experience can be used as an example of a case where there is a social transmission of preferences between women.

Jones, B. et al. (2007). Social transmission of face preferences among humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society. 74, 899–903. doi:10.1098/rspb.2006.0205

How Media Influence Society
In the following article, the notion of the expectations associated with media ideals were discussed. The article began by pointing out that there are many constraints the media places on society to look a certain way. Through these expectations, individuals in society may feel the need to live up to the non-ideal, perfect expectations. The article also mentions that women in general feel more pressured to meet the ideals set by the media. The ideals revolve around the notion of material aspects like the newest designer clothes, shoes and bags to the physical attributes of attractive facial features, the skinniest figure and beautiful hair. If they do not live up to these expectations placed, then problems begin to arise. When they begin to focus solely on the issues they may think they have with their appearance, it distracts/makes them unaware of positive empowering messages designed to counter the effect the media has. The article points out that by focusing solely on attaining the perfect look set by the media, it consequences of decreased self esteem when the look is unattainable, an increase in shame and anxiety and a decrease of one’s happiness.
It is worth noting that in this article, the primary purpose reflected on an experiment conducted on women to see how their lives would change if they were in fact the perfect representation of beauty in terms of the media’s criteria. The majority of the women (with a few exceptions) in this study indicated that becoming the “ideal” female in terms of the media would make them more happy and successful in life. It would make others view them more positively if they were to clearly represent the ideal standard. The study then went on further to explain that most of the women in the experiment believed that meeting the criteria of the perfect women would make them ultimately more content in life. This article is of great importance to you and your study because it showcases the power and influence the media can have on what society considers to be beautiful. Through different forms of representations presented by the media, individuals in society perceive beauty in their own way, but is ultimately consistent with the media’s representation of it. This article is a great read and can provide you with even more details of the media’s effect on society’s perception of beauty. Many individual experiments are also discussed in this article and how they pertain to this topic. Although the entire article has many important details pertaining to the media’s ideals, the bulk of the important information can be found in the introduction, the experiment and the discussion.

Engelen-Maddox, R. (2006). Buying a beauty standard or dreaming of a new life? Expectations associated with media ideals. Psychology of Women Quarterly. American Psychological Association. 258-256

How Advertising Influences the Perception of Beauty
Beauty perception being influenced by the environment in terms of the media can be represented in many different forms. For instance, it can be represented through the form of mass advertisement. In this article, the notion of advertisements affecting our perception of beauty is discussed. The article is about just how advertisements have the potential to affect our representation of beauty and how we feel about ourselves. It mentions that advertising is a billion dollar industry and is constant throughout our entire lives. Because we are constantly surrounded by different representations of advertisements (such as television commercials, magazine covers and billboard pictures), our perception of beauty is bound to be affected. This article discusses a study a groups of college women undergoing various experiments related to the notion of beauty in terms of the media.
There were four experiments conducted by researchers that each measured the response that the women had towards the topic of beauty. Each experiment measured how the women felt about themselves and others after being shown images of models on magazine covers and various other forms of media representation. Furthermore, the purpose of this article was to measure the response that females had towards the media’s representation of beauty in the form of advertisements and how it affected their perception of beauty. The article also mentions that after being shown the images of the models who were considered to be extremely beautiful, the women in general began to compare themselves to the models. They wanted to look like the images of the models they were seeing. When they saw models with highly attractive features, they began to feel extremely dissatisfied with themselves. This article is important because it further explains the notion of how the media influences our perception of beauty through advertisements. Each of the four experiments conducted provide their own set of strong data that only helps to support the claim that the media does play a big role in our criteria of beauty. The experiments and results section of this article contain the most relevant information.

Richins, M. L. (1991). Social Comparison and the Idealized Images of Advertising. Journal of Consumer Research, 18(1), 71-83.

Eating Disorders Against Natural Perception of Beauty
Eating disorders can be defined as a response that individuals develop when they are dissatisfied with the physical representations of their bodies. Eating disorders can occur when one tries to attain their ideal representation of their body size by denying themselves access to food in an attempt to lose weight (Anorexia Nervosa).
In this article, multiple studies are combined together pertaining to the idea that the perfect representation of beauty through the media may cause individuals, particularly females, to begin to develop eating disorders. This is with the intention of looking like the models they see on magazine covers. The purpose of this article was to show just how the media’s portrayal of beauty can have such a negative impact on individual’s own representation of their bodies, this is playing a big role in the development of eating disorders. Also, in the development of an eating disorder, the media standards become elevated in way that goes against our normal perception of beauty. Multiple statistics are gathered in this article that help prove the notions. An important topic worth discussing that is explained in the article states that women who read more magazines with a heavier presence of the “perfect body” are more likely to develop eating disorders then those who don’t (pp. 42, Gilbert). The study went on to further explain other triggers of the development of internal and external body dissatisfaction like excessively watching music videos, television commercials, etc. The article then goes further to explain the notion of the media’s representation of beauty stating that the images are in fact non ideal because they are heavily altered, but we unconsciously still compare ourselves to them which promotes the foundations of eating disorders. Furthermore, it is explained that eating disorders are commonly developed with the intention of feeling and looking beautiful. This article is of importance because it clearly defines the role the media plays on the development of an eating disorder and the clouding of our natural perception of beauty.

Gilbert, S. C., Keery, H., & Thompson, J. K. (2005). The media's role in body image and eating disorders. Featuring females: Feminist analyses of media. American Psychological Association. 41-56. doi:


According to our previous articles we saw that an individual is considered attractive if they have the features indicating health and possibility of reproduction. Therefore, it is understandable that people who do not respect these norms physically will be considered unattractive. This book provide good examples; babies are considered adorable and triggers our need for protection, however going in the opposite direction of this innate notion we do not consider people with "baby faces" adorable. On the contrary, we consider these people not physical mature, which makes them unable for reproduction (pp.53, Simpson). The book also argues that special features indicate a sign of youth to the observer. They argue that large eyes are preferred over small eyes since it takes much more attention; which explains why during a certain era in the previous video, big eyes where considered as beautiful. Moreover, a small nose is also preferred in order to leave place to draw attention to other mature features such as pronounced cheekbones. This provides a plausible explanation to why people with genetic disorders (such as Down Syndrome) are considered unattractive across different cultures. Their features of small eyes and big noses are considered unattractive due to norms set by society; this would be a good argument in order to demonstrate how society implies that problems with the genetic makeup can be a source of unattractiveness rather than admitting that their standard of beauty can sometime go against nature and genetics.

Simpson, J.A.,& Kenrick,D.T. (1997). Evolutionary Social Psychology.Mahwah, NewJersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

An Interdisciplinary Approach in Aesthetic Appreciation
This article consists of review of different works that have been done these past centuries regarding the subject of beauty. As it was proven in previous articles, there are more than one factor that influence our perception of beauty. The most important section of this article is the one titled “Human aesthetic appreciation”. This section made reference to a large number of research articles that can be useful for your research. The author talked about the different elements mentioned earlier that influence the perception of beauty. They gave other factors that have an impact on the individual’s attractiveness, such as the educational background. An interesting approach that can be used in our matter is proposed in this paper, the interdisciplinary approach. This approach uses a melting-pot of all the different perspectives to the origin of attractiveness in order to achieve a holistic understanding. The author acknowledged that if nature was the only factor affecting attractiveness, our preference should not change among cultures or through time. They justified the change of preference to the development and availability of various materials depending on the civilization, their culture and the time period. Not only the perception of beauty is based on a natural selection but on top of it others elements influence our decision. This paper provided a great summary of a large number of articles that have been published. That is why this paper can be used as a database to obtain additional articles relevant to the topic.

Jacobsen, T. (2010). Beauty and the brain: culture, history and individual differences in aesthetic appreciation. Journal of Anatomy. 216, 184-191. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2009.01164.x

Innate or Learned?
This article is of importance because it distinguishes and connects the idea of beauty either being innate or learned. The article begins by relating the notion of beauty to biology and evolution. It states that the criteria of beauty was biased primarily on the idea of finding a potential mate that was able to further pass on the strengths of one’s genes to its offspring. This relates to the findings of the previous articles above. One was then therefore able to gauge the biological quality of a potential mate with certain factors (symmetry, skin health/quality, etc.). These factors are presented in a great amount of detail that can be further emphasized in your report. The article also argues that individuals find others more attractive when they have similar facial features to them than those who don’t (Social Context). The article states that when others have physical traits that closely resemble our own, there is an increased sense of attractiveness due to the notion of familiarity. The biological and evolutionary aspect is a large portion of this article that explains our perception of beauty, but it is not the only one. The article further states that through evolution, our genes were a correct way to determine if one was beautiful. But it also states that it can also be learned through the environment (nurture). It further explains this notion by stating that humans can learn about attractiveness through their surroundings. Examples of this could be through the media, other individuals, etc. For instance, the article explained the notion of men who wear wedding rings being perceived as more attractive then those who didn't. Another example included women finding males more attractive when they were surrounded by women then those who weren't. Multiple examples like this were included that can be further analyzed. The article’s purpose is to inform the reader that perceiving someone as attractive can be innate and built into us through evolution, but it can also be learned by what is present in our surroundings.

Little et al. (2011). Facial attractiveness: evolutionary based research. Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society. 1638–1659. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0404

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License