Scientists have long speculated that attraction is based on subtle cues about fertility, reproductive fitness, or compatibility. But a new study published in Current Biology suggests that experience-based personal preference—not just genes or other influences—is the primary determining factor in judgments of attractiveness.
How Experience and Preference Affect Attraction
Previous research has demonstrated some universal preferences. For example, most people are attracted to symmetrical faces. But this and other aesthetic preferences only account for as much as 50% of total attraction.
To explore the factors behind which faces people find most attractive, researchers asked more than 35,000 volunteers to rank the attractiveness of 200 faces using an online test. Next, they asked 547 pairs of identical twins and 214 pairs of non-identical same-sex twins to complete the same survey. Identical twins share all of their genes, while non-identical twins share the same amount of genes as regular siblings. The research strategy of comparing the two has long been used to explore genetic and environmental influences.
This, researchers say, points to a more personalized dimension to attractiveness. Unique experiences, such as the media a person consumes, experiences with romantic partners, and peer relationships may all influence assessments of attraction. Over time, these subtle influences can add up to big differences between people—even closely related family members.
- Germine, L., Russell, R., Bronstad, P. M., Biokland, G. A., Smoller, J. W., Kwok, H., . . . Wilmer, J. B. (2015). Individual preferences for faces are shaped mostly by environments, not genes. Current Biology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.08.048
- Handwerk, B. (2015, October 1). What’s beautiful? It depends on what your eyes have already beheld. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/whats-beautiful-it-depends-what-your-eyes-have-already-beheld-180956802/?no-ist
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