How Does Science Explain The Reasons For Attractiveness?

David Hume once stated that “beauty exists merely in the mind that contemplates it and each mind contemplates a different beauty.” However, scientists have long shown that specific physical features are found attractive among individuals and across cultures, as is the case in the animal kingdom. For instance, the size and shape of features like fins, fur, and feathers determine an animal’s ‘attractiveness in the wild. In human beings, meanwhile, features such as big eyes, full lips, and thick hair are usually deemed ‘ideal’. Newer scientific studies reveal, however, that ‘ideal beauty’ goes way beyond specific features. Their results show that ideas we may not have valued in the media and in traditional discussions on beauty – including symmetry – are far more important than they seem.

Symmetry, Averageness 

As stated in a study by A Little and colleagues, facial symmetry is a key measure of attractiveness in human faces. This is because it suggests a stronger genetic ability to adapt to environmental challenges. Today, issues such as uneven smiles, tooth unevenness, and jaw asymmetries can be approached naturally or through minimally invasive procedures. Jaw imbalances, for instance, are usually treated via exercises, postural improvement, facial stretches, and cheek toning. Additional treatment options include fillers and facial implants (for those after a more permanent solution). Studies also show that the closer one’s facial alignment is to the population average, the more it is considered attractive (owing, once again, to its indication of genetic diversity).

The Importance Of The Golden Ratio

Researchers have also found that there is a ‘golden ratio’ that determines attractiveness. One study by University of Toronto researchers focused on women, finding that women’s faces were considered more attractive when the vertical distance between their eyes and mouth measured 36% of the total length of their face and when the horizontal distance between their eyes amounted to 46% of their facial width. The same study found that averageness was a key factor in the perception of beauty because “it is a proxy for health and we may be predisposed by biology and evolution to find average faces attractive.”

The Role Of Smell

Beauty isn’t only perceived through the visual sense. Research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center has shown that women’s faces are rated as more attractive in the presence of good odors. Lead author, J Seubert, explained, “Odor pleasantness and facial attractiveness integrate into one joint emotional evaluation. This may indicate a common site of neural processing in the brain.” Interestingly, in the study, pleasant odors also led participants to see older faces as even older and younger faces as even younger. Unpleasant odors, on the other hand, weakened this effect, so that older and younger faces were perceived to be more similar in age.

Personality Matters Too

A study published in the journal Personal Relationships has shown that people’s perception of physical attractiveness depends on personality, as well. That is, people who are honest and helpful are seen as better looking than those who display negative traits such as rudeness and being unfair. “Perceiving a person as having a desirable personality makes the person more suitable in general as a close relationship partner of any kind,” said lead author, G Lewandowski, reminding people that who you are can affect people’s perceptions of you in a positive way.

Science shows that ideal beauty, far from being a myth, is something which (in many ways) can be measured. Factors such as averageness, symmetry, and the ‘golden ratio’ all have a significant impact on our assessment of a person’s attractiveness. This doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, since many other factors – including smells and personality – can impact someone’s likelihood of being deemed attractive, both by friends and the object of their desire.


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