Human Beauty

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Physical attractiveness is the degree to which a person's physical traits are considered aesthetically pleasing or beautiful. The term often implies sexual attractiveness or desirability, but can also be distinct from the two. There are many factors which influence one person's attraction to another, with physical aspects being one of them. Physical attraction itself includes universal perceptions common to all human cultures, as well as aspects that are culturally and socially dependent, along with individual subjective preferences.

In many cases, humans attribute positive characteristics, such as intelligence and honesty, to physically attractive people without consciously realizing it.[8] From research done in the United States and United Kingdom, it was found that the association between intelligence and physical attractiveness is stronger among men than among women.[9]Evolutionary psychologists have tried to answer why individuals who are more physically attractive should also, on average, be more intelligent, and have put forward the notion that both general intelligence and physical attractiveness may be indicators of underlying genetic fitness.[10] A person's physical characteristics can signal cues to fertility and health. Attending to these factors increases reproductive success, furthering the representation of one's genes in the population.[11]

Men, on average, tend to be attracted to women who are shorter than they are, have a youthful appearance, and exhibit features such as a symmetrical face,[12] full breasts, full lips, and a low waist-hip ratio.[13] Women, on average, tend to be attracted to men who are taller than they are, display a high degree of facial symmetry, masculine facial dimorphism, and who have broad shoulders, a relatively narrow waist, and a V-shaped torso.[14][15]

Generally, physical attraction can be studied from a number of perspectives, including universal perceptions common to all human cultures, cultural and social aspects, and individual subjective preferences. Additionally, the perception of attractiveness can have a significant effect on how people are judged in terms of employment or social opportunities, friendship, sexual behavior, and marriage.[16]

Some physical features are attractive in both men and women, particularly bodily[17] and facial symmetry,[18][19][20][21] although one contrary report suggests that "absolute flawlessness" with perfect symmetry can be "disturbing".[22] Symmetry may be evolutionarily beneficial as a sign of health because asymmetry "signals past illness or injury".[23] One study suggested people were able to "gauge beauty at a subliminal level" by seeing only a glimpse of a picture for one-hundredth of a second.[23] Other important factors include youthfulness, skin clarity and smoothness of skin; and "vivid color" in the eyes and hair.[18] However, there are numerous differences based on gender.

A 1921 study of the reports of college students regarding those traits in individuals which make for attractiveness and repulsiveness argued that static traits, such as beauty or ugliness of features, hold a position subordinate to groups of physical elements like expressive behavior, affectionate disposition, grace of manner, aristocratic bearing, social accomplishments, and personal habits.[24]

Women, on average, tend to be more attracted to men who have a relatively narrow waist, a V-shaped torso, and broad shoulders. Women also tend to be more attracted to men who are taller than they are, and display a high degree of facial symmetry, as well as relatively masculine facial dimorphism.[14][15] With regard to male-male-attractiveness, one source reports that the most important factor that attracts gay men to other males is the man's physical attractiveness.[25]

Studies have shown that ovulating heterosexual women prefer faces with masculine traits associated with increased exposure to testosterone during key developmental stages, such as a broad forehead, relatively longer lower face, prominent chin and brow, chiseled jaw and defined cheekbones.[26] The degree of differences between male and female anatomical traits is called sexual dimorphism. Female respondents in the follicular phase of their menstrual cycle (n = 55) were significantly more likely to choose a masculine face than those in menses and luteal phases (n = 84),[27] (or in those taking hormonal contraception).[14][15][28] It is suggested that the masculinity of facial features is a reliable indication of good health, or, alternatively, that masculine-looking males are more likely to achieve high status.[29] However, the correlation between attractive facial features and health has been questioned.[30] Sociocultural factors, such as self-perceived attractiveness, status in a relationship and degree of gender-conformity, have been reported to play a role in female preferences for male faces.[31] Studies have found that women who perceive themselves as physically attractive are more likely to choose men with masculine facial dimorphism, than are women who perceive themselves as physically unattractive.[32] In men, facial masculinity significantly correlates with facial symmetry—it has been suggested that both are signals of developmental stability and genetic health.[33] One study called into question the importance of facial masculinity in physical attractiveness in men arguing that when perceived health, which is factored into facial masculinity, is discounted it makes little difference in physical attractiveness.[34] In a cross-country study involving 4,794 women in their early twenties, a difference was found in women's average "masculinity preference" between countries.[35]

A study found that the same genetic factors cause facial masculinity in both males and females such that a male with a more masculine face would likely have a sister with a more masculine face due to the siblings having shared genes. The study also found that, although female faces that were more feminine were judged to be more attractive, there was no association between male facial masculinity and male facial attractiveness for female judges. With these findings, the study reasoned that if a woman were to reproduce with a man with a more masculine face, then her daughters would also inherit a more masculine face, making the daughters less attractive. The study concluded that there must be other factors that advantage the genetics for masculine male faces to offset their reproductive disadvantage in terms of "health", "fertility" and "facial attractiveness" when the same genetics are present in females. The study reasoned that the "selective advantage" for masculine male faces must "have (or had)" been due to some factor that is not directly tied to female perceptions of male facial attractiveness. The study said that the selection for masculine male faces could be due to the indirect result of female preferences for "correlated traits" such as bodily muscularity or assertive tendencies. The study also said women could possibly judge more masculine faces as being more attractive in "certain contexts or populations" or during ovulation, even though more masculine male faces are not judged by women as more attractive overall. Alternatively, the study said that the selection for "robust" male faces could be due to a "survival or reproductive advantage" by which greater robustness is better suited for "physical damage" in male-male competition or facial robustness may indicate "dominance to male competitors".[36]

In a study of 447 gay men in China, researchers said that tops preferred feminized male faces, bottoms preferred masculinized male faces and versatiles had no preference for either feminized or masculinized male faces.[37]

Symmetrical faces and bodies may be signs of good inheritance to women of child-bearing age seeking to create healthy offspring. Studies suggest women are less attracted to men with asymmetrical faces,[38] and symmetrical faces correlate with long term mental performance[39] and are an indication that a man has experienced "fewer genetic and environmental disturbances such as diseases, toxins, malnutrition or genetic mutations" while growing.[39] Since achieving symmetry is a difficult task during human growth, requiring billions of cell reproductions while maintaining a parallel structure, achieving symmetry is a visible signal of genetic health.

Studies have also suggested that women at peak fertility were more likely to fantasize about men with greater facial symmetry,[40] and other studies have found that male symmetry was the only factor that could significantly predict the likelihood of a woman experiencing orgasm during sex. Women with partners possessing greater symmetry reported significantly more copulatory female orgasms than were reported by women with partners possessing low symmetry, even with many potential confounding variables controlled.[41] This finding has been found to hold across different cultures. It has been argued that masculine facial dimorphism (in men) and symmetry in faces are signals advertising genetic quality in potential mates.[42] Low facial and body fluctuating asymmetry may indicate good health and intelligence, which are desirable features.[43] Studies have found that women who perceive themselves as being more physically attractive are more likely to favor men with a higher degree of facial symmetry, than are women who perceive themselves as being less physically attractive.[32] It has been found that symmetrical men (and women) have a tendency to begin to have sexual intercourse at an earlier age, to have more sexual partners, and to have more one-night stands. They are also more likely to be prone to infidelity.[44] A study of quarterbacks in the American National Football League found a positive correlation between facial symmetry and salaries.[19]

A number of double-blind studies have found that women prefer the scent of men who are rated as facially attractive.[45] For example, a study by Anja Rikowski and Karl Grammer had individuals rate the scent of T-shirts slept in by test subjects. The photographs of those subjects were independently rated, and Rikowski and Grammer found that both males and females were more attracted to the natural scent of individuals who had been rated by consensus as facially attractive.[46] Additionally, it has also been shown that women have a preference for the scent of men with more symmetrical faces, and that women's preference for the scent of more symmetrical men is strongest during the most fertile period of their menstrual cycle. Within the set of normally cycling women, individual women's preference for the scent of men with high facial symmetry correlated with their probability of conception.[47]

Studies have explored the genetic basis behind such issues as facial symmetry and body scent and how they influence physical attraction. In one study in which women wore men's T-shirts, researchers found that women were more attracted to the bodily scents in shirts of men who had a different type of gene section within the DNA called Major histocompatibility complex (MHC).[48] MHC is a large gene area within the DNA of vertebrates which encodes proteins dealing with the immune system[49] and which influences individual bodily odors.[50] One hypothesis is that humans are naturally attracted by the sense of smell and taste to others with dissimilar MHC sections, perhaps to avoid subsequent inbreeding while increasing the genetic diversity of offspring.[49] Further, there are studies showing that women's natural attraction for men with dissimilar immune profiles can be distorted with use of birth control pills.[50] Other research findings involving the genetic foundations of attraction suggest that MHC heterozygosity positively correlates with male facial attractiveness. Women judge the faces of men who are heterozygous at all three MHC loci to be more attractive than the faces of men who are homozygous at one or more of these loci. Additionally, a second experiment with genotyped women raters, found these preferences were independent of the degree of MHC similarity between the men and the female rater. With MHC heterozygosity independently seen as a genetic advantage, the results suggest that facial attractiveness in men may be a measure of genetic quality.[51][52]

For the Romans especially, "beardlessness" and "smooth young bodies" were considered beautiful to both men and women.[53] For Greek and Roman men, the most desirable traits of boys were their "youth" and "hairlessness". Pubescent boys were considered a socially appropriate object of male desire, while post-pubescent boys were considered to be "ἔξωροι" or "past the prime".[53] This was largely in the context of pederasty (adult male interest in adolescent boys). Today, men and women's attitudes towards male beauty has changed. For example, body hair on men may even be preferred (see below).

A 2010 OkCupid study of 200,000 of its male and female customers found that women users are, except during their early to mid-twenties, open to searches from both somewhat older and somewhat younger men; they have a larger potential dating pool than men until age 26. At age 20 women, in a "dramatic change", begin sending private messages to significantly older men. Another such change occurs at age 29, accompanied by an end to messages to significantly younger men. Male desirability to women peaks in the late 20s and does not fall below the average for all men until 36.[54]


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