Physical traits are more important to attraction than many of us would care to admit. In this lesson, we discuss cross-cultural similarities in traits considered physically attractive, including symmetry, waist-to-hip and waist-to-shoulder ratios, and the 'baby face' phenomenon.
So far in this chapter about attraction, we've focused on some of the reasons that we like certain people more than others. It certainly makes sense that we get to know and typically like the people we see every day, especially if we have something in common. But, how important do you think physical attractiveness is when determining if we like someone either romantically or platonically?
It turns out it matters quite a bit. A plethora of research has shown that physical attractiveness is highly valued by both males and females. This research includes many field studies, which measured actual behavior instead of just what people say. These results probably aren't too surprising, but what do you think the researchers found when it came to identifying the physical traits that made someone attractive to another person?
I'm sure you've heard the saying, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' Logic dictates that beauty standards differ between cultures. Although both of these are true to a certain extent, it's remarkable how people across the world seem to agree on the attractiveness of certain features. Three of these features are the topic of this lesson: waist ratios, symmetry, and what social psychologists call 'the baby face phenomenon'.
First, let's discuss classic ratios. The fact that most men prefer women with an hourglass figure is well-known. Seven seems to be the magic number, as the most attractive female waist-to-hip ratio is 7:10. For example, a waist that measures 25 inches is approximately 7/10 the size of hips that measure 36 inches, so a woman with these measurements would have the ideal figure.
According to evolutionary psychology, this ratio is preferred because men are naturally attracted to women who are able to maximize the number of offspring produced. A woman with a 7:10 waist-to-hip ratio is the figure of health and peak fertility, so she is viewed as more physically attractive by men across all cultures.
Evolutionary theory proposes women also prefer men with physical features that suggest health and stamina. The ratio that is most important here is waist-to-shoulder, as the most attractive male shape includes broad shoulders and a slim waist. This results in a 'V' shape that is associated with higher testosterone, so it is viewed as more physically attractive by women across all cultures.
Facial symmetry is a universal aspect of facial beauty.
Beyond ratios and overall figures that are attractive for romantic reasons, the most important feature that determines attraction (especially platonic) is the face. Even babies of all ethnicities prefer photographs of attractive faces to unattractive ones, and they actually prefer the same photographs that adults prefer. This provides evidence that certain aspects of facial beauty are universal.
Facial symmetry, where each side of the face is the exact mirror image of the other, is definitely one of these aspects. Symmetry seems to be considered much more attractive than asymmetry, even though true absolute symmetry is rare in the real world. Research has also found that people are more attracted to average faces. There have been many studies that merged photographs of several people into one composite image, which averaged every facial feature.
When psychologists asked people to compare a series of photographed faces, the vast majority of participants selected the composite face as the most attractive. The average composite face was more attractive because it had lost most of the asymmetrical features that were present in the individual faces.
Infant-like facial features, such as large eyes and thick lips, are typically considered attractive.
For the final trait of physical attractiveness we'll discuss in this lesson, let's examine the faces of the celebrities above, who are considered very attractive by most people. What features do they have in common? You might notice that each person has large eyes, thick lips, a relatively short nose, and a large curved forehead.
These are considered baby face traits, for infants typically have the same facial features. Many studies indicate that the baby face phenomenon, or the tendency to find infant-like facial features attractive, occurs not only because the features suggest youth, but also because they elicit the same warm feelings as our typical response to babies (both human and animal).
In summary, research has found that physical attractiveness is a very important determinant of liking someone. Even though some beauty is 'in the eye of the beholder,' and certain beauty standards differ between cultures, it's remarkable how people across the world seem to agree on the attractiveness of certain features. For example, the majority of men find a female waist-to-hip ratio of 7:10, which results in an hourglass figure, as most attractive. Women find a male waist-to-shoulder ratio, which results in a 'V' shape, as most attractive.
When it comes to the face, there is evidence that certain aspects of facial beauty are universal, because even babies prefer the same photographs of attractive faces that adults prefer. Facial symmetry, where each side of the face is the exact mirror image of the other, is definitely one of these aspects. Symmetry seems to be considered much more attractive than asymmetry. Research has also found that people are more attracted to average faces. Finally, there is a tendency to find infant-like facial features attractive, such as large eyes, thick lips, a relatively short nose, and a large curved forehead. This is called the baby face phenomenon.
You'll be able to describe three features that people across cultures and genders describe as attractive after viewing this lesson.