Scientific Beauty

Leo Tolstoy says: “It is not beauty that endears, it is love that makes us see beauty” in War and Peace, 1869. You don’t need to write such a thick book to confirm this if you think that your girlfriend is the most beautiful creature in the world. Or you think your mom looks extremely charming in her black dress, but then why do we agree most of the time on if someone is good looking or not? Why do Miss World winners look undeniable beautiful for everyone?

You have extremely symmetrical face babe!

Although we can’t define beauty in numbers, there are some qualifications that we have evolved to perceive as attractive. Human body has pretty much symmetrical appearance which otherwise would seem unpleasant or annoying from outside. Face is no exception for this. Therefore, symmetry of the face is very important factor. It has been shown that people tend to prefer their mates having a symmetrical facial morphology.

I adore your averageness…

Second hallmark of beauty is averageness which refers to how alike does an individual look to people in the community. This means the more you look like your ethnic group, the more you are beautiful. Scientists revealed many possible evolutionary reasons behind this preference. For example, one theory suggests that people looking like each other have more diverse genetic background. Therefore, once they mate, their genetic pool will be richer which is advantageous for immune system and adaptation to environment [1].

Hormones

Another characteristic is secondary sexual features in face which is directly associated with hormones. If you think no matter how skinny you’re, you always have a puffy face, then this could be resulted from your oestrogen levels. Strikingly, both Caucasians and Japanese people have been shown to tend to select feminine looking males in Caucasians and Japanese. Although feminine facial structure is considered as preferable for both sides, ideal male figure does not seem to be regulated directly by hormones.

Healthy Skin 
If I would say a healthy-looking skin is crucial beholder, you wouldn’t be surprised, I guess. A healthy-looking appearance, even skin colour without blemishes and good quality of skin texture are the factors contributing a healthy-looking face. It has been studied extensively that, not only humans but also other primates like to choose healthy looking mates which is again a trait developed to have better genetic pool for future generations. In a study, scientists found that a red-looking face is more attractive which can be explained by blood carrying more oxygen thereby a healthier individual [2].

Annoying beautiful paintings
On the other hand, to understand how we perceive the beauty, it is necessary to tease out what the ugliness is. What makes us think that someone or something is ugly or bad looking? What are the critical factors that drive us to avoid someone when those elements are deformed? It is hard to find a common ‘bad’ or shockingly ugly for everyone. Well, indeed Francis Bacon was in the search of terribly shocking figures. Two scientists from University College London, revealed why we feel disturbed when we see his paintings. They monitored brain activities of people who are shown Bacon’s most annoying pieces. Strangely, the area illuminated was far from being the area allocated for facial perception in the brain, which means Bacon somehow modified them so much so that they don’t seem like a human face anymore, although they have components that a human face requires.
Overall, beauty seem to have some constitutive components, yet it is challenging to base it on only scientific reasons, because humans are not perfect, so are their faces. As Francis Bacon said, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in proportion”. I feel what beauty is will remain as a mystery for very long time, or perhaps the secret is hided somewhere in Bacon’s paintings.

 

 

  1. Honekopp, J., T. Bartholome, and G. Jansen, Facial attractiveness, symmetry, and physical fitness in young women. Hum Nat, 2004. 15(2): p. 147-67.
  2. Zeki, S. and T. Ishizu, The “Visual Shock” of Francis Bacon: an essay in neuroesthetics. Front Hum Neurosci, 2013. 7: p. 850.
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