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Our Preferences: Why We Like What We Like

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Essential Building Blocks of Human Nature

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Abstract

Humans tend to judge and sort their social and non-social environment permanently into a few basic categories: ‘likes’ and ‘don’t likes’. Indeed we have developed general preferences for our social and non-social environment. These preferences can be subsumed under the term ‘evolutionary aesthetics’ (Voland & Grammer 2003). Indeed humans and animals have evolved preferences for mates, food, habitats, odors, and objects. Those stimuli that promoted reproductive success are bound to evoke positive emotional responses, and humans develop an obsession-like attitude towards aesthetics and beauty. Although we are ‘all legally equal’, people are often treated differently according to their physical appearance. This differential treatment by others starts early in life. Three-month-old children gaze longer at attractive faces than at unattractive faces. From these results, Langlois et al. (1990) conclude that beauty standards are not learned, but that there is an innate beauty detector. Attractive children receive less punishment than unattractive children for the same types of misbehavior. Differential treatment goes on at school, college, and even university (Baugh & Parry 1991). In this part of our lives attractiveness is coupled to academic achievements — attractive students receive better grades. Even when we apply for jobs, appearance may dominate qualification (Collins & Zebrowitz 1995). This differential treatment reaches its peak perhaps in jurisdiction, where attractiveness can lead to better treatment and lighter sentences. However, this is only the case if attractiveness did not play a role in the crime (Hateld & Sprecher 1986). We even believe that attractive people are better — ‘what is beautiful is good’ is a common standard in our thinking, according to Dion et al. (1972). The question then arises: Where does this obsessive preoccupation with beauty and attractiveness come from?We will outline here the thesis that human mate selection criteria, which have evolved through human evolutionary history, are responsible for shaping our perception of attractiveness and beauty.

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Correspondence to Karl Grammer .

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Grammer, K., Oberzaucher, E. (2011). Our Preferences: Why We Like What We Like. In: Frey, U.J., Störmer, C., Willführ, K.P. (eds) Essential Building Blocks of Human Nature. The Frontiers Collection. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-13968-0_6

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