Beauty refers to aesthetic appearance. It is sexually attractive and important for social status. Beauty is mostly objective in that people agree fairly strongly on who is ugly or beautiful, but variation in taste does exist. The ability to recognize beauty correlates weakly to moderately with IQ, so high IQ raters presumably agree more.
Physical attractiveness strongly predicts initial romantic interest to the same degree in men and women. Humans judge beauty within less than a second and beauty is misperceived to be strongly predictive of various positive traits such as morality, intelligence and health, which is known as the beauty-is-good stereotype, a certain kind of halo effect. People are fairly bad judging their perceived physical attractiveness, especially men.
Even though beauty matters, especially in online dating, blind dating, speed dating and in the entertainment industry, beauty does not appear to matter much for reproductive success, even less so for males. Instead, mate choice is largely decided by male competition, mate choices by the parents, risk-proneness, the ability of the male to provide resources, male coercion, as well as "the art of the possible" ("doesn't matter; had sex"). So neither does beauty seem to be the result of sexual selection, nor does it indicate particular health or other desirable attributes.
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 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 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 signficance 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 use flowers as adornment to get men's attention since flowers happen to fulfill the same function.
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Beauty, however, appears to mainly matter at zero-acquaintance level and in stated mate preferences (as mentioned in the Scientific Blackpill) and there are only weak or zero results for the relation of beauty to reproductive success or mate choice. Beauty, especially in terms of youth, appears to be more important for reproductive success for women than for men. One study suggested women's mate choices do not matter much at all, rather they are mostly chosen by male competition.
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 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]
Beauty is only slightly negatively related to criminality, and beauty is only very weakly related to intelligence, if at all. A recent meta study of 1,753 identical and fraternal twins and their siblings found no correlation between facial attractiveness and IQ, and suggested studies that previously found a weak correlation suffered from halo effect as they involved attractiveness ratings of acquaintances. Accordingly, looks are also only weakly related to socioeconomic status. The halo effect of attractiveness on perceived intelligence is pretty significant.
Beauty is also at most only weakly correlated with health. 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, average number of illness symptoms per year, and total number of infections.
Different aspects of beauty are also not inter-correlated, e.g. no correlation between attractive faces and attractive voices.
The waist-to-hip-ratio/fertility link is weak at best.
The relationship between health and mating success is weak, i.e. people select for physical attractiveness rather than health. Physical unattractiveness only correlates weakly with general health (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 causality is unclear. Ugliness could cause social exclusion, making them depressed which increases their blood pressure and causes other chronic diseases, or disease could be caused by the environment and the disease may reduce looks (e.g. eye circles and wrinkles), but "bad genes" (a general fitness factor) could also cause both ugliness and bad health.
Deeper male voice is not linked to immunocompetence even though women are strongly attracted to it. A deep voice in particular may mainly have the purpose of intimidating other men, i.e. intrasexual competition.
In summary, beauty in humans, which is mostly averageness, smoothness and symmetry, is not a certificate for health or ability. Even though deformities slightly signal developmental instability, mutational load and autism, beauty mostly seems to be just ornament or an outcome of how the human brain happens to take interest in aesthetics, in simple and predictable patterns.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- 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)
- http://doi.org/10.1177/1474704918800063 (Lassek 2018)
- https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.06.004 (Nedelec 2014)
- http://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.06.003 (Arnocky 2018)
- http://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2013.08.029 (O’Connor 2014)