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 appealing. Human body seems to be pretty much symmetrical which otherwise would look unpleasant or annoying to observer. Face is no exception for this. Therefore, face symmetry is crucial for conceptual beauty. 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 the others. This means the more you carry features of your ethnic group, the more beautiful you are. Scientists revealed possible evolutionary reasons behind such particularity. For example, one theory suggests that people who look alike have more diverse genetic background. Therefore, once they mate, their genetic pool will be enhanced which is an advantage for immune system and adaptation to the environment[1].

Hormones
Another characteristic is secondary sexual features on face which is straightly 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 for beauty, you wouldn’t be surprised, I guess. Acne-free skin and good complexion are the factors contributing a healthy-looking face. It has been studied extensively that, not only humans but also other primates tend to select healthy looking mates, which is again a trait developed to have better genetic pool for future generations. Then’ question comes, what do scientists mean by healthy looking face? A study revealed that the subjects find people with blushy cheeks more attractive compared to those with even complexion. The scientists suggest that red cheeks may indicate blood vessels carrying more oxygen thereby a healthy individual  which in turn leads to subconscious selection of the fittest mate[2].

Annoying beautiful paintings
On the other hand, to understand how we perceive beauty, it is necessary to tease out what 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, who is the most inspirational surrealist artist ever, was in the search of terribly ugly figures. Two scientists from University College London, revealed why Bacon’s paintings annoy us. 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 hidden 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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