Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty

Abstract

Evolutionary, as well as cultural, pressures may contribute to our perceptions of facial attractiveness. Biologists predict that facial symmetry should be attractive, because it may signal mate quality. We tested the prediction that facial symmetry is attractive by manipulating the symmetry of individual faces and observing the effect on attractiveness, and by examining whether natural variations in symmetry (between faces) correlated with perceived attractiveness. Attractiveness increased when we increased symmetry, and decreased when we reduced symmetry, in individual faces (Experiment 1), and natural variations in symmetry correlated significantly with attractiveness (Experiments 1 and 1A). Perfectly symmetric versions, made by blending the normal and mirror images of each face, were preferred to less symmetric versions of the same faces (even when those versions were also blends) (Experiments 1 and 2). Similar results were found when subjects judged the faces on appeal as a potential life partner, suggesting that facial symmetry may affect human mate choice. We conclude that facial symmetry is attractive and discuss the possibility that this preference for symmetry may be biologically based.

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Correspondence to Gillian Rhodes.

Additional information

This research was supported by grants from the Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, the Australian Research Council, and the University of Western Australia. We thank Graham Byatt, Ian McLean, Johanna Roberts, and Leslie Zebrowitz for stimulating discussions about this work, and Rotem Kowner, Nicola Bruno, Randy Larsen, Leslie Zebrowitz, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We also thank Graham Byatt for assistance with stimulus construction, Linda Jeffery for assistance with the figures, and Alison Clark and Catherine Hickford for assistance with data collection and statistical analysis in Experiment 1A.

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Rhodes, G., Proffitt, F., Grady, J.M. et al. Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 5, 659–669 (1998). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03208842

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Keywords

  • Pair Type
  • Directional Asymmetry
  • Facial Attractiveness
  • Attractiveness Rating
  • Symmetric Version