What she sees in you -- facial attractiveness explained

What she sees in you -- facial attractiveness explained
Split face photo used in evaluation of how women determine facial attractiveness by Robert G. Franklin, graduate student in psychology and Reginald Adams, assistant professor of psychology and neurology, Penn State. Photo Credit: Robert G. Franklin, Penn State
(PhysOrg.com) -- When it comes to potential mates, women may be as complicated as men claim they are, according to psychologists.

"We have found that women evaluate facial attractiveness on two levels -- a sexual level, based on specific facial features like the jawbone, cheekbone and lips, and a nonsexual level based on overall aesthetics," said Robert G. Franklin, graduate student in psychology working with Reginald Adams, assistant professor of psychology and neurology, Penn State. "At the most basic sexual level, attractiveness represents a quality that should increase reproductive potential, like fertility or health."

On the nonsexual side, attractiveness can be perceived on the whole, where brains judge beauty based on the sum of the parts they see.

"But up until now, this (dual-process) concept had not been tested," Franklin explained. The researchers report the findings of their tests in the current issue of the .

To study how women use these methods of determining facial attractiveness, the psychologists showed fifty female college students a variety of male and female faces. They asked the participants to rate what they saw as both hypothetical dates and hypothetical lab partners on a scale of one to seven. The first question was designed to invoke a sexual basis of determining attractiveness, while the second was geared to an aesthetic one. This part of the experiment served as a baseline for next phase.

The psychologists then presented the same faces to another set of fifty heterosexual female students. Some of these faces, however, were split horizontally, with the upper and lower halves shifted in opposite directions. The scientists asked these participants to rate the overall attractiveness of the split and whole faces on the same scale.

By dividing the faces in half and disrupting the test subjects' total facial processing, the researchers believed that women would rely more on specific facial features to determine attractiveness. They thought that this sexual route would come into play particularly when the participants saw faces that were suited as hypothetical dates rather than lab partners. The study showed exactly that.

"The whole face ratings of the second group correlated better with the nonsexual 'lab partner' ratings of the first group." Franklin said. With the faces intact, the participants could evaluate them on an overall, nonsexual level.

"The split face ratings of the second group also correlated with the nonsexual ratings of the first group when the participants were looking at female faces," he added. "The only change occurred when we showed the second group split, male faces. These ratings correlated better with the 'hypothetical date' ratings of the first group."

The bottom line is that, at a statistically significant level, splitting the faces in half made the women rely on a purely sexual strategy of processing male faces. The study verifies that these two ways of assessing facial appeal exist and can be separated for women.

"We do not know whether attractiveness is a cultural effect or just how our brains process this information," Franklin admitted. "In the future, we plan to study how cultural differences in our participants play a role in how they rate these . We also want to see how hormonal changes women experience at different stages in the menstrual cycle affect how they evaluate attractiveness on these two levels."

Researchers have long known that women's biological routes of sexual attraction derive from an instinctive reproductive desire, relying on estrogen and related hormones to regulate them. The overall aesthetic approach is a less reward-based function, driven by progesterone.

How this complex network of hormones interacts and is channeled through the conscious brain and the human culture that shapes it is a mystery.

"It is a complicated picture," Franklin added. "We are trying to find what features in the brain are at play, here."

Source: Pennsylvania State University (news : web)


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Aug 25, 2009
Men, as well as women go through a sexual phase equivalent to the woman's menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, in the male the cycle begins at 12-13 and ends at 95!

Aug 25, 2009
Humans aren't really designed to live past the age of reproduction (and didn't, in the wild), so any behaviours after the end of the reproductive phase are undoubtedly abberations based on receding/increasing levels of hormones which are simply running off the end of their program.

Aug 25, 2009
I find this article interesting.. Comparing these findings to that of a man may also show similar results

Aug 25, 2009
TheBigYin - I actually disagree with you, as you seem to take instinct as our main guidance.
Psychology have evolved a lot since we became reasonable beings, which means that our "design" as you say, has also changed. Emotions and behaviors now are one of the most important characteristics in a human being and this just doesn't become receding/increasing hormone levels after the reproductive phase, even because as said in the article, culture also has role in the play.

Aug 26, 2009
My observations tend to point toward a much more complicated neurosynology and psychopathology than is generally noted, lovely features can easily be negated by the slightest of imperfections.

During the age where reproduction is a driving force in courtship behaviors, hormonal signals speak of the suitability of a male, however, observation shows that females in this nubile range also select on physical traits indicating the male will be able to defend both mother and child against physical threats, as well as being physically able to supply nutritional needs. Females tend to select males in the upper range of the social "pecking order", leading to the often stated conundrum of women wanting to bear children of males who are more intelligent than the norm. This throws a "wild card" into play, where the female may seek out a more intelligent, though less physically impressive male to engage in mating behaviors with (often secretly) during her periods of highest probability of becoming pregnant, while maintaining her "committed" relationship to her less intellectual male who has a higher social standing based on factors such as ability to fight,and the willingness of other males to accept him as a leader(or risk combat with little chance of being the victor). These behaviors help explain why "nice" girls will often take an impressive physical specimen notwithstanding a "brutish attitude" in her consort, with secret involvement with a male more intellectually advanced.

Elder females enjoy the company of younger males based on attractiveness,and physical confirmation, as well as a "worldy wise" attitude. These relationships are entered into seeking emotional and sexual satisfaction. Indeed the satisfaction found for the female in these "cougar" relationships usually has it's beginning in the self satisfaction of knowing that she still has "it", and given the constant change of societal norms, she is free to not only enjoy the younger male, but gains a deep satisfaction when being seen by her peers as the enchantress as her Apollo caters to her every whim.

Add the eleventy gazzillion other possibilities including normal neurosis in an adjusted personality, and it becomes clear that without the chance to undertake scientific inventory of behaviors within a relationship between male and female, beautiful, or ugly as a mud fence, we shall never understand the dynamics in play, or as a neuropsychiatrist friend once pointed out, "You may study human relationships for an entire career, but in the end you know little more than you did in the 8th grade".

It seems that relationships are as snowflakes, each different, some long lasting, some gone in an instant.

Aug 27, 2009
My point was that all our behaviours, be them broadly 'instinctive' or behaviours that come about as a result of our higher intellectual capability - they must ALL be reproduction-friendly - or they would be bred out of the gene pool. Behaviours which come about after the age of reproduction have not had to undergo this selection process, so I don't think you can draw any wider conclusions about them - they are random.

Aug 29, 2009
So, Zorro is sexy because part of his face is covered and women can only evaluate his male sexual traits.

Aug 30, 2009
"From the woman came the beginning of sin, and by her we all die." Ecclesiasticus chpt 25 verse 33.


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