According to a recent survey, what humans consider to be attractive qualities of other people is based on our own individual life experiences. What some people consider to be beautiful might be totally different from others as a result of differing life experiences.
In the survey, participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of various faces from different nations and cultures throughout the world.
According to the results, common preferences, such as facial symmetry, accounted for only about 50% of a person’s total attraction to a face. The other half was completely personal, coming from influences such as the faces of a childhood crush or the faces of one’s parents.
The phenomenon is not believed to be based on genetics, as even identical twins sometimes demonstrated considerably different facial preferences.
However, the study still acknowledges that some people are going to be more widely perceived as attractive than others.
Study co-author and psychologist Jeremy Wilmer says, “People will generally agree that Brad Pitt is an attractive guy. There might be some very interesting debates around the dinner table about whether he's a 7 or a 4. But the reason that supermodels make loads of money is that, on average, lots of people think they are pretty attractive.”
There has been a longstanding debate over the source of our shared preferences. Previous research has suggested that it relates to evolution and that certain features indicate that one is able to successfully reproduce. Other research has pointed to the possible role that culture has had on our preferences.
However, for this study, Wilmer and his team wanted to focus on the extent to which the perception of beauty differs between people, as well as where our particular preferences are derived from.
Participants of the study were able to access a website where they could rate images of faces that were obtained from around the world. They would rate the faces on a scale of one to seven, with seven being the most attractive.
Wilmer says of the results, “It turns out that we can predict about 50 percent of a random person's preferences with another random person's preferences. But then the other 50 percent of our preferences are different.”
The team found that the 50-50 breakdown was applicable even to twins with virtually identical genes. This disputed previous tests that showed that facial recognition is largely driven by genetics.
“So it was really surprising that our study found such a relatively low impact of genes and a higher impact of environment,” Wilmer stated.
According to Wilmer, personal experience represents the core of our individual preferences.
“It's not socioeconomic status or the schools you went to. Most twins go to the same school. I like to think of it this way: Yes, identical twins have the same genes and the same family, but as they walk down the street they aren't joined at the hip. They are going to have different friends and different significant others,” he says.
In the future, Wilmer and his team hope to identify the certain aspects of a face that lead to a person’s individual perception of attractiveness. They also want to figure out which particular life experiences of humans have the greatest impact on attraction.
“Is it experiences with friends and significant others, or is it just the experiences of walking down the street and passing by a unique bunch of people that nobody else passed by in exactly the same way?” he questions.