Even across cultures, people largely agree on what is beautiful and what is not, particularly when it comes to faces, suggesting that it’s something that’s hard-wired into our brain which happens subconsciously. In fact, some psychologists have noted that voters may give their vote to more attractive political candidates, while teachers may give better grades to better-looking students. So far, these observations have been difficult to explain, but by using a range of technologies including digital face morphing and brain imaging, it’s become possible to identify not just some of the diverse qualities that we find attractive in faces, but some of the complex neural networks that respond to beauty. Furthermore, in addition to giving an insight into the neural links involved in evaluating attractiveness, it’s also helping us to understand why some people have a greater appreciation of art than others.
Facial beauty is far more complicated than just simple proportions
Throughout history, thinkers and artists held a belief that facial beauty was linked to ideal proportions, such as the width of the face being two-thirds of its height. However, it’s far more complicated than just simple proportions. In the last few decades psychologists have started to use new technologies, such as digital morphing to construct faces based on three key qualities – symmetry, averageness, and sexual dimorphism, as these are thought to be the factors that are important for choosing a ‘mate’. While it’s quite easy to understand the appeal of symmetry and whether a face has feminine or masculine traits, the fact that ‘averageness’ is a key factor is probably due to the fact that it’s not just a sign of health, but it also indicates a lack of genetic irregularities. It’s also thought that the brain finds it easier to identify average faces.
However, scientists are learning more about why we find certain features more attractive, with studies showing that more attractive faces light up the brain’s reward network, stimulating areas such as the nucleus accumbens, which generates pleasurable sensations. Attractive faces activate these reward areas, even when we’re not actively thinking about, or studying the face. Through their studies, the neuroscientists are also beginning to understand more about aesthetics, and how are brain responds to inanimate objects.
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