Human Facial Attractiveness in Psychological Research

An Evolutionary Approach

by Slávka Démuthová (Author) Lenka Selecká (Author) Andrej Démuth (Author)
©2019 Monographs 211 Pages
Series: Spectrum Slovakia, Volume 21


The monograph presents psychological interpretations of the specific reactions of individuals within the perception of attractive human faces. It concentrates on exploring selected attributes of human face that increase its attractiveness. After introducing essential information on the specifics of facial perception and its brain correlates, the monograph presents findings on the effect of symmetry, averageness, proportions, sexually dimorphic features, personality characteristics, or the importance of specific parts of the face to its attractiveness. Based on the results of both foreign and own research, the authors formulate interpretations of why and how the identification and preference of examined characteristics have been developed and maintained by the evolution.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 The Human Face as a Specific Object of Perception
  • 1.1 Functional Specificity
  • 1.2 Inborn Character
  • 1.3 Unique Brain Representation
  • 2 Anthropometric Characteristics
  • 2.1 Symmetry
  • 2.2 Averageness
  • 2.3 Proportions
  • 3 Sexual Characteristics
  • 3.1 Sexual Dimorphism in Human Faces
  • 3.2 Feminine Features
  • 3.3 Masculine Features
  • 4 Specific Parts of the Face
  • 4.1 The Eyes
  • 4.2 The Mouth
  • 4.3 The Skin
  • 5 Personality Characteristics
  • 5.1 Dominance versus Submissiveness
  • 5.2 Extraversion versus Introversion
  • 5.3 Other Personality Characteristics of the Big Five Model
  • 5.4 Honesty versus Deceptiveness
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • About Authors

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The human face uniquely identifies an individual and has an irreplaceable role in interpersonal interactions. Not only are we able to recognise a person on the basis of their facial features, but the individual also closely identifies with their features. In many cultures, the face is both literally and metaphorically an important means of self-expression – it provides space for emotional expression, it enables us to read personality traits of an individual or his or her level of interest in the surrounding world. From the moment we are born, our face represents a specific object for human perception, this interest lasts for the whole of our lives and the importance of this part of the human organism stirs up lively debate among experts from various fields of scientific research.

One of the many scientific approaches which may be adopted in research into the human face is evolutionary psychology. By its very nature, this discipline primarily attempts to clarify the phylogenesis of human behaviour using knowledge of biology and psychology, and in this case of scientific research into human facial attractiveness, working with many possible interpretations of why a given individual may consider certain faces attractive. However, this seemingly simple and very natural result of human perception is the subject of numerous complicated theories, which try to understand the importance of attractiveness for the preservation of the human species and to discover the mechanisms responsible for this process.

Naturally, evolutionary psychology does not claim to have an exclusive right to interpret the meaning of attractiveness in the human facial research, quite the opposite, it closely collaborates with other scientific disciplines, which may arrive at different views and conclusions (including the use of a different terminology, which may consequently lead to a different connotation of the term ‘attractiveness’). The nature of the study of attractiveness is inherently an interdisciplinary problem and, thus, employing the theoretical bases of philosophy, knowledge of heredity mechanisms, how the human body functions and the laws of mathematics, geometry, statistics or even artistic canons represents an integral part of its exploration. All of these disciplines mutually enrich and complement one another; their mutual conflicts draw our attention to the potential limitations and ambiguity of explanations, which essentially lead to further improvement in the level of understanding.

The aim of this monograph is to provide the impetus for further discussions. It originates from a very specific and narrow field, and the observation of the human face primarily from the viewpoint of a psychologist, searching for facial features which could be important signals of other←9 | 10→wise hidden, yet vital, information for the survival of the organism associated with a particular face. Wherever possible (whether from the spatial perspective or with regard to the available knowledge), authors try to formulate interpretations, which offer possible explanations for why and how the interpretation of a specific feature was created and preserved, and possibly to even highlight the mechanisms which cause this preference to be experienced by those who perceive it as attractive.

This publication is divided into five thematic units. In the first chapter, entitled “The Human Face as a Specific Object of Perception” the authors clarify some of the reasons why it is necessary to understand the human face as a unique object of visual perception and to distinguish it from the perception of other (non-facial) objects. The essence of this chapter concentrates on the description of the functional specificity of the human face and presents other specificities discovered through scientific studies. The chapter provides an overview of the relevant scientific studies that point to the fact that facial perception shows signs of heredity, and also that the style of processing used in the recognition of faces is unique as it is not typically used for other objects, or that there are face-specific neural representations of facial perception. It also provides an overview of the areas of the brain involved in the process of facial perception as well as an outline for the plausible cooperation mechanism of these areas, thus making the chapter, as a whole, the basis for the interpretations made in the following parts of the monograph.

The second chapter (“Anthropometric Characteristics”) is aimed, more specifically, at those facial characteristics that belong to those features that are typically considered to increase facial attractiveness. It presents the example of the “classic” approach to the objectification of attractive human facial features, as represented by anthropometric measurements. The results of these measurements include the findings that symmetry, averageness and the presence of appropriate proportions in faces are universally considered attractive. The authors present these results in the context of the theoretical background, which explains the importance of symmetry, averageness and proportions in a wider context and – of course – specifically in detail in the context of an evolutionary perspective. The chapter includes an introduction to several concepts of the function of the human facial evaluation (e.g. an introduction to “face averaging device” mechanisms), which serve as the basis for the arguments in the following parts of the monograph. This chapter (as in the subsequent chapters) presents unique and original results of measurements relevant to the field of human facial attractiveness realised on a sample of the pop←10 | 11→ulation from the authors’ home country, in addition to studies carried out abroad.

The chapter “Sexual Characteristics” introduces a specifically targeted scrutiny of human facial attractiveness, the essence of which lies in the importance of sexual differentiation. Similar to the previous chapters, this part focuses on the face as a whole and on the way in which male or female sexual identity is manifested there. In addition to crucial information about the importance of sex, secondary sexual features in the face and their part in the evaluation of attractiveness, in the context of sexual selection, this chapter informs the reader about the most recent research methods that utilise the ability to scan and precisely measure the specific dimensions of the human face using computer technology. It familiarises the reader with the methodology used in the formation of facial computer composites, which offer a new methodological approach to the study of the effect of specific (adjustable) human facial features on perceived attractiveness.

The fourth part of the publication, “Specific Parts of the Face”, provides an example of the fact that human facial attractiveness is not solely affected by the holistic effect of the specific arrangement, the shape, or the distances between the individual parts, but it also highlights the observation that certain parts of the face (i.e. its characteristics) may have greater importance in the perception of attractiveness than others. The chapter accounts for the importance of the eyes, mouth or skin in the evaluation of attractiveness, emphasising the evolutionary importance of these parts and suggesting why, and in what way, they provide vital information to the percipient. In this chapter, the authors also discuss the impact of globalisation on the assessment of human facial attractiveness, and using the example of skin colour, they demonstrate that on top of evolutionary important mechanisms, an environmental impact may also play a certain role and thus modify preferences. This demonstrates that despite the narrow focus and specialisation of the described approaches and subsequent interpretations, it is always necessary to also take the multi-etiological nature of the studied issue into consideration.

The last and most extensive chapter (“Personality Characteristics”) reflects the predominant professional orientation of the authors – psychology – and introduces a singular and specific area of research into human facial attractiveness. The basis of the information presented is the methodology of facial composite formation, which allows the digital creation of a typical face for a member of a specific group. In this case, groups of individuals were formed based on the dominant psychological characteristics, hence the chapter works with facial prototypes that demonstrate the ←11 | 12→following traits: extrovert/introvert, dominant/submissive or honest/deceptive, and observes to what extent the personality traits identified from the faces are considered attractive by the percipients. Of course, they also observe the evolutionary-psychological contexts of these preferences. The selection of the observed personality traits is not exhaustive – it especially presents the most striking personality traits (e.g. the Big Five concept), but in principle, it could also be applied to other traits. Suggestions for further research as well as the results of sub-studies outside the scope of the presented monograph are presented in the conclusion, which may serve, together with the suggestions presented in the individual subchapters, as inspiration for further research by those experts working in this field.

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The human face represents a very important, irreplaceable and unique object of visual perception. Its uniqueness lies not only in the type and amount of the vital information it contains and thus its functional singularity, but also in other crucial aspects. Faces are objects that we perceive in a specialised way which (as opposed to all other objects) seems to be innate. Furthermore, we assume the processes used for the recognition of faces are unique because it is not typically used for other objects. Finally, it seems that there might be face-specific neural representations of face perception (McKone and Robbins 2011, Kišoňová 2017).

1.1 Functional Specificity

Of all the parts of the human organism, the face is the object which draws the greatest attention, since it conveys (sends and enables to receive) a huge amount of crucial information. We use faces to identify objects – at a basic level to decide whether it really is a face1 and next whether it is a human face (distinguishing the human face from the faces of animals/primates), and at a more specific level, to obtain an immeasurable amount of additional information, especially of a social nature. The fact that a single object (the face) expresses and conveys such an amount of diverse information makes it a functionally singular object of human exploration (Young, De Haan and Bauer 2008).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (April)
Attractiveness Psychology Evolutionary Biology Aesthetics Neuroaesthetics Philosophy
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 212 pp., 22 fig. b/w, 13 tables.

Biographical notes

Slávka Démuthová (Author) Lenka Selecká (Author) Andrej Démuth (Author)

Slávka Démuthová is Associate Professor and the head of the Department of Psychology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava. Lenka Selecká is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Psychology of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava. Andrej Démuth is Professor of philosophy at the Trnava University and Comenius University in Bratislava.


Title: Human Facial Attractiveness in Psychological Research