The Science of Beauty

Human beings’ opinions vary in almost every aspect of life. When you think of “beautiful”, everyone has different traits that come to mind. Some people prefer blue eyes and blonde hair, some like of a darker complexion and some can appreciate a multitude of looks. While these differences in what is viewed as attractive can range, why are some people internationally accepted as beautiful? You’re going to have a hard time arguing that Cindy Crawford, Christie Brinkley, Miranda Kerr, Robert Redford or Zac Efron isn’t attractive. Here’s why:

The Ancient Greeks were one of the first civilizations to think about the standards of beauty and just exactly why some people were considered beautiful by all. It was Greek philosopher Plato who came up with certain proportions known at the time as the “golden proportions.” While most modern day civilizations no longer think of these specifics as the standard of beautiful, this sparked the idea that universally, some people are just more attractive. Nowadays, studies have shown that a symmetrical face is the number one feature that people find attractive. Babies are more likely to stare at a picture of a symmetric face as opposed to an asymmetric one. A study done at New Mexico State University found that when people rated faces on attractiveness on a scale from one to ten, all the faces rated “ten” were very symmetrical. This love for symmetry is not just baked into the biology of humans, but also animals. Swallows have been found to prefer mates with more symmetric tails and female zebra finches were found more likely to mate with other finches that have symmetrically colored leg rings.

perf faceAlexandre Bonadiman by Julio Torres

While this attraction to symmetry is pretty universal, there are very specific features in Western civilization that have been consistently seen as beautiful. Studies have shown that men often prefer a smaller nose and jaw, chiseled cheekbones and big eyes on women while women like heart shaped faces with a small chin, light skin and big lips. Both of these profiles matches what is known as a “baby face” and the reason people find these youthful faces attractive is because a baby face suggests a strong life partnership and promising reproductive success.

There are also things that are not necessarily physical that are thought of as attractive. Kindness and friendliness have been found to play a key role in what is seen at beautiful. A study done at college found that 70% of students thought a professor was attractive when he acted in a friendly way as opposed to only 30% that did when he was acting in a stand-offish way.

These standards of beauty have changed immensely throughout the years and will continue to change. Who knows what people will consider “beautiful” in 30 years!




8 thoughts on “The Science of Beauty

  1. Taylor Weinstein

    Hello Molly,
    Me personally when I read this blog post I was really interested in what you were saying. I have to agree with what you said in the beginning that when someone thinks of the term “beautiful”, everyone has there own different traits that comes to mind. Everyone is beautiful in there own way. I also have to agree with you on this, I would like to find a guy and look for a guy with the qualities of kindness and friendliness and when I see that they have those qualities they are better looking in my eyes. It’s crazy to think how much more over the years beauty became important. Image is everything and many people will do anything and everything to make themselves stand out. Beauty is huge in media, TV, news. Here is a article that I found on the science and truth or beauty and I found it very interesting.

  2. Rachel Sara Anton

    Hey Molly!

    I thought this blog was very intriguing, especially the part about beauty and kindness. This makes me think about times where I see a person from a distance and think one thing about their appearance…then I meet them. My perception completely changes based on their personality. I wonder how this ties into the Phi Phenomenon. Have you heard of it? It’s really cool because it ties the beauty of faces and nature together all through one magic number. You could check out more about it at this link

  3. Abigail Reese

    As soon as I read your post, I immediately thought of an article I had previously read. I think it is so interesting that our culture values beauty so much and that the values continue to change across time. The article states, “We’ve become a country where race is no longer so black or white.” I thought this was really inspiring considering just decades ago, the country was very racially split. I am an HDFS major and in my infant development class, we learned that babies are made to be extra cute so that their caretakers are more likely to pay attention to them. This is why babies have such big cute eyes! This makes me sad though because shouldn’t you love your baby no matter what he or she looks like? I find comfort in knowing that kindness and friendliness are also a factor of beauty because those are traits that are not so superficial.

  4. Matthew Porr

    I found this blog to be very interesting! One time in high school we asked our art teacher to define beauty but instead of answering the question she changed the topic to people have symmetry as being beautiful. So instead of calling her students beautiful she would call them symmetrical. I also found it interesting that Plato was known for setting the standard for beauty in ancient times but today who sets the standard of beauty? Some might say that the media sets the standard for beauty and I would agree with that. Magazine companies get called out all the time for altering pictures of models to make them look “more beautiful”.

  5. ajh6183

    If anyone ever gets upset about not being called the “perfect 10” thats okay, and actually, is mathematically true. The golden ratio is a geometric equation process used to measure how close your face is to perfect symmetry, scaled highest to 10. I actually did a math lesson on this topic in geometry class and the results were amazing. I remember being told, most people score between 4 and 6. Movie stars and models we see are attractive for a reason, and that is because most of them are very close to a perfect 10, hence why we enjoy looking at their faces. But the golden ratio isn’t only found in faces. It is also used in products to seem more appealing to the eye, such as the Apple symbol. Even more interestingly, I learned how the golden ratio can also be found naturally in our world, such as in sunflowers and seashells. If you anyone is interested in finding out their number follow the do the calculation yourself steps in the link:

  6. Brooke Barrett

    I loved this blog! It reminded me of the AP Psychology course that I took my senior year. The symmetry that you talked about in your blog was exactly what we discussed! We also talked about what men and women actually look for, whether they know they are or not. One thing, believed by Freud, was that we looked for people who resembled our parents. It’s kind of a creepy theory, but Freud was kinda of creepy too. He called it the Oedipus Complex. It’s pretty messed up.

  7. Jillian Nicole Beitter

    Great blog! I think it’s crazy how much the standards of beauty have evolved over time. I like how you tied in the ancient greek civilization and how now we kind of just have this look that makes someone “internationally accepted as beautiful.”

    1. Lauren Elizabeth Mcgonigle

      Love this blog! I have to agree with you on the statement, “When you think of “beautiful”, everyone has different traits that come to mind”. This allows the readers that may not agree with you about beauty equals a symmetric face, or defined cheekbones. This will allow them to have an open mind and maybe change their way of thinking based on your findings. However, it would be cool to know what different people think about beauty. Conducting a survey asking what each person thinks “beauty” is based on race, gender, culture, and other different elements would be interesting to observe.

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