Beauty refers to the perceived aesthetic quality of an object, individual, being or concept perceptible to the senses or mind. In humans, it is sexually attractive, an important factor in determining social status, and associated with favourable life outcomes and perceptions in general. An emphasis on the importance of looks as a central determinate of human mating behavior is a core aspect of the blackpill. However, some studies find no positive relation between facial attractiveness and lifetime sexual success, despite moderate effects found in online dating and other zero-acquaintance contexts, and despite good looks predicting a lower chance of remaining virgin during early adulthood. However, looks do matter somewhat in terms of assortative mating as attractiveness ratings within couples (both short and long-term) are moderately correlated (r = .4), meaning very attractive people rarely mate with very unattractive ones.
Beauty is mostly objective in that people agree fairly strongly on who is ugly or beautiful. It has been found, for example, that newborn babies display a preference for faces that are generally considered beautiful by adults, and that people mostly agree on what factors determine beauty across-cultures, implying that aesthetic preferences are largely inborn.
However, some variation in taste does exist, perhaps owing to cultural or environmental factors, media exposure, or to individual differences in innate preferences that may be determined by such things as the desire to seek out complementary genes, group or individual differences in life history speed, and early imprinting effects, among other factors. As overall aesthetic discernment correlates weakly to moderately with general intelligence, it is also plausible that more intelligent people would be expected to both exhibit a higher preference for beauty in their potential romantic partners and to agree more on what people are beautiful.
Humans judge beauty within less than a second, and tend to generally associate beauty with a plethora of positive traits such as virtue, intelligence, health, warmth and general sociability, a phenomenon known as the beauty-is-good stereotype, a kind of halo effect. Despite these biased perceptions, the bulk of the evidence suggests beauty is not a reliable indicator of health or other desirable attributes, with these associations being weak when they exist. It is also interesting to note that people (men in particular) are reasonably bad at judging their own level of physical attractiveness, especially men, with these self-assessments of beauty often being driven by factors such as sexual success and self-esteem than objective, third-party rated beauty. Though despite the link between beauty and health and ability being weak, it has proven a very consistent link and may explain why humans may have evolved to value aesthetics in their partner choices.
Looks theory and the importance of beauty in human mating[edit | edit source]
Physical attractiveness strongly predicts initial romantic interest to roughly the same degree in men and women in dyadic (one on one) interactions, and it seems that both men and women generally exhibit minimal requirements in regards to their expectations of potential romantic partners level of beauty, with women additionally displaying higher minimal standards in regards to their expectations of their male partners level of status and wealth.
In opposition to looks theory, some evidence suggests that outside of one-on-one interactions and beyond the zero-acquaintance level, mate choice is often decided by or associated with largely non-beauty related factors such as male competition, mate choices by the parents, impulsiveness, the ability of the male to provide resources, male coercion, as well as "the art of the possible", that is, people (particularly men in short-term mating contexts) being forced to lower their standards out of desperation ("doesn't matter; had sex").
Objective vs subjective[edit | edit source]
One can distinguish objective and subjective preferences for body shapes. Objective preferences are genetically inherited, so everyone mostly agrees on them, whereas subjective preferences are acquired through emotional experience.
Objective beauty is mostly about mathematical/geometric simplicity, which includes symmetry, smoothness, averageness, repetitions and elegance. It has been proposed many animal brains have a natural preference for this because simplicity is easy to process, which is called the processing fluency theory of aesthetic pleasure, which is thought to be a mere side-effect or spandrel of an actually useful preference for order and predictability.
An example of objective beauty may be that even blind men prefer women's elegant hourglass-shaped body, suggesting men are born with this aesthetic preference.
In many animals, ornament can also be very complex rather than simple, e.g. the peacock tail; however, this kind of ornament is still simple in that it consists of repeating, precise patterns.
Evolution of beauty[edit | edit source]
Beauty may be sexually selected, but in the case of humans, there is negative evidence for this, as, e.g. in African societies more good looking individuals do not have higher reproductive success. But in other mammals, sexual selection may have played a role. The processing fluency hypothesis suggests that animals prefer objective beauty due to its mathematical simplicity and predictability. Due to this preference, animals may have tended to choose mathematically beautiful mates, and hence species evolved to be beautiful (aesthetic, sexual selection) and beauty became an important factor of sexual attraction. Some deep-sea fish may be particularly ugly due to being blind.
Feedback loops in sexual selection such as Fisherian runaway and sensory bias can explain why secondary sexual characteristics are overcomplicated and enlarged in some animals, and they can also explain the immense sexual attraction to very specific shapes despite them having barely any relevance for survival except "social survival". Runaway selection narrows or stabilizes preferences explaining millimeters of bone, uncanny valley and perhaps an aversion to other races. Runaway selection also exaggerates preferences, which may explain phenomena such as women readily copulating with sexy men despite being coy otherwise, as well as love on first sight, oneitis and the significance of aesthetics in porn.
Besides sexual selection, another way evolutionary explanation for beauty is that it acts as an honest signal of, e.g. health, mutational load and intelligence, can thus signal good genes overall. These two opposing views the Good Geners vs Fisherians lead to significant academic rivalry since the 1990s. The link between beauty and health is consistent, but only weak (see correlations). Simple and elegant body shapes may result from optimizing resource efficiency or resilience. This explains why even blind animals and plants are often beautiful.
Some flowers may have also evolved beauty and scents to be particularly salient to insects which spread their pollen. Similarly, many animals use beauty to conspicuously advertise themselves to the opposite sex. For this reason, human females often use flowers as an adornment to get men's attention since flowers just happen to fulfil the same function.
Beauty and reproductive success[edit | edit source]
Even though beauty matters a lot, especially in online dating, social media, blind dating, speed dating, the entertainment industry, the workforce, and social interactions in general, beauty does not ultimately appear to matter much in determining reproductive success. As mentioned above, some studies find non-existent or even negative associations between male beauty and fertility in contexts where access to family planning is low, suggesting that the strength of the selection pressure on beauty varied a lot throughout humanities evolutionary history, which this variance perhaps partially attributable to the possible ubiquity of arranged marriages throughout much of this period. Beauty, especially in terms of youth, appears to be generally more important for reproductive success for women than for men.
Since beauty is neither related to health very much nor to mate choice, the highly prevalent sexual interest in beauty may be merely coincidental with the way the brain works, rather than adaptive. Though some argue, even slight fitness advantages of beauty (through mate choice or relation to overall good genes) may be enough to exert selective pressure on mate choices.
Beautiful behavior[edit | edit source]
Not just looks, but also behavior can be beautiful and sexually attractive, such as facial expressiveness, gait, physiognomy, tone and clarity of the voice, or more generally charisma. Analogously to objective beauty described above, beautiful behavior has elegance, confidence, poise, wit, i.e. it can be processed fluently, and also includes the production of art, dancing, humor etc. which has been suggested to be sexually selected.
The opposite is awkwardness, lethargy, stuttering, violation of norms, autism, inappropriate laughter, delayed response, anxiety etc. Aesthetic sexual selection possibly played a role in the evolution of these behaviors, especially as they lack obvious survival value apart from being socially advantageous. Also, in some birds, fish and other species one can observe animals (especially male ones) competing in performance of complex behaviors (courtship display), which ranges from courtship dances to construction of aesthetically pleasing nest formations. In the same manner, higher human cognition has been suggested to have largely evolved by sexual selection as a "cognitive ornament".
The failure of any personality traits and intelligence to predict initial romantic interest in blind and semi-blind settings, however, suggests sexually selected beautiful behavior is limited to rather momentary, superficial and sub-personality behaviors such as facial expressions and, perhaps singing, dance movements, and overall smoothness and neurotypicality, if it was sexually selected at all.
Male dancers of the Wodaabe African tribe (see video) are a clear example of men showing off sexual adaptations for facial expressiveness, fine control of facial muscles, glances, smiling, sense of style and adornment, singing, chanting, whistling, as well as the white of the eye (sclera), straight white teeth, all of which are possibly sexual/aesthetic adaptations. Wodaabes believe men who are not physically beautiful can make up for it with togu (game) and flirting with poetic speech patterns called sweet tongue, i.e. beautiful behavior. Such courtship performances have striking resemblance with modern day jestermaxxing and tindermaxxing. People on the autism spectrum often lack fine control of their facial muscles or body overall. Dance performances with rhythmic and rocking motions, delicate hand movements, and overall elegance, poise and coolness are seen in many indigenous cultures, may be sexually selected. Given that facial beauty, although important for initial sexual interest, does not predict reproductive success very much, suggests that these kinds of behaviors are also not sexually selected.
Correlations[edit | edit source]
Due to the halo effect, good looking people are irrationally considered in an overly positive light. In truth, looks do not correlate with anything very much. For example, beauty is largely unrelated to morality. One study based on the U.S. national survey Add Health only found a slightly negative relation between physical attractiveness and criminality. Beauty is also at best weakly related to intelligence. A recent meta-study of 1,753 identical and fraternal twins and their siblings found no correlation between facial attractiveness and general intelligence, and suggested studies that previously found moderate correlations suffered from substantial confounds derived from rater halo effects as they involved attractiveness ratings of acquaintances. Accordingly, looks are also only weakly related to socioeconomic status. Conversely, the halo effect of attractiveness on perceived intelligence is strong with correlations as high as r = .8 between people's judgements of attractiveness and expected intelligence. This suggests any cooperating group of people consisting entirely of good looking individuals was highly likely not selected based on merit. The beauty-is-good bias presumably drives the phenomenon that attractive scientists are perceived as inferior, as an unseasonable counter reaction (as attractive people likely do have a very slight advantage in IQ, on average).
Physical attractiveness and general health correlate weakly though consistently (r = .13, p < .001). See the figure on the right for predicted probabilities for various diseases, controlled for age, sex, race, income and parents' income. The direction of causality is moreover unclear: Ugliness could cause social exclusion, depression which and hence increase blood pressure and causes other chronic diseases. Alternatively, non-congential disease may reduce looks (e.g. eye circles and wrinkles), but certainly "bad genes" (a general fitness factor) could also cause both ugliness and bad health. Overall health status is also weakly linked to frequency of sex, health status is only partially determined by genes (e.g. poor health may be caused by an accident rather than genes). The relationship between a good immune system and mating success was, however, absent in one study, which suggests people do not select for honest indicators of particularly healthy genes directly to the extent they are visible at all. Science that purported a link between facial fluctuating asymmetry and health has been exposed as outright scientific fraud. A survey study by Henderson et al. (2015) summarized:
Contrary to the hypothesis that symmetry cues health, the largest study of facial asymmetry and health to date found no relationship between these variables. Researchers used data from a British cohort study of 4732 individuals and found that facial symmetry at age 15 was unrelated to longitudinal measures of childhood health, including measures of the proportion of childhood years spent unwell, the average number of illness symptoms per year, and the total number of infections.
Distinct aspects of beauty are also only weakly inter-correlated, e.g. facial and voice attractiveness. Further, there is insufficient evidence for the hourglass-shaped waist-to-hip-ratio (which men desire in women) being linked to health or fertility. A deeper male voice was not found to be linked to immunocompetence in one study, even though women are attracted to such voices. A deep voice in particular may primarily have the purpose of intimidating other men, i.e. intrasexual competition rather than being subject to aesthetic or sexual selection.
In summary, beauty in humans is mostly averageness, smoothness and sexual dimorphism (particularly neoteny in females, while exaggerated facial masculinity is, in fact, not more attractive to women than average facial masculinity, see facial masculinity). Beauty is not a guarantee for health, ability or morality at all, despite most falsely and strongly assuming this being the case. Physical deformities and abnormalities do likely signal developmental instability, mutational load and autism to some degree, but beauty mostly appears to only exist in the eye of the beholder as the brain happens to take interest in aesthetics, in simple and predictable shapes or acquired preferences. Evidence of aesthetic sexual selection is weak, though there is more consistent evidence of men selecting female beauty than the reverse.
References[edit | edit source]
- Selterman, D. F., Chagnon, E., & Mackinnon, S. P. (2015). Do Men and Women Exhibit Different Preferences for Mates? A Replication of Eastwick and Finkel (2008). SAGE Open, 5(3), 215824401560516. doi:10.1177/2158244015605160
- Fuller, R. C., Houle, D., & Travis, J. 2005. Sensory Bias as an Explanation for the Evolution of Mate Preferences. [Abstract]
- Bressler ER, Martin RA, Balshine S. 2006. Production and appreciation of humor as sexually selected traits. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27(2), 121-130. [Abstract]
- Matsuura K. 2014. A new pufferfish of the genus Torquigener that builds "mystery circles" on sandy bottoms in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan (Actinopterygii: Tetraodontiformes: Tetraodontidae). Ichthyological Research. Vol 62.2, pp. 207–212. [Abstract]
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415372/ (Mitchem 2016)
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4757567/ (Talamas 2016)
- https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.06.004 (Nedelec 2014)
- Bovet, Jeanne (2019). Jones, Alex L. (ed.). "Evolutionary Theories and Men's Preferences for Women's Waist-to-Hip Ratio: Which Hypotheses Remain? A Systematic Review". Frontiers in Psychology. 10: 1221. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01221. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 6563790. PMID 31244708. http://doi.org/10.1177/1474704918800063
- http://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2013.08.029 (O’Connor 2014)