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More Than Just a Pretty Face

I wrote a story for that got posted yesterday to much excitement. The excitement was largely for the unusually pretty composite face featured with the article (thanks, Face Research), but I’d like to comment on the theory proposed.

Over at Frink Tank, Mr. Orange is less than impressed:

Too bad the article it’s attached to is about a theory that Mr. Orange thinks is complete bunk, seeing as how it postulates that average faces are attractive not so much because they indicate fitness (in the evolutionary sense of that word), but because they’re “easier to process.” Dhur?

Dhur, indeed, Orange.

A few researchers I spoke to while researching said that Winkielman might have hit upon something valid, but his conclusions are actually compatible with evolutionary explanations. As Dr. Anonymous from the article wrote:

The evolutionary argument, as I see it, hasn’t proposed a mechanism but a selection pressure—averagness of faces is related to actual health, for example, and choosing healthy partners is important. If we choose healthy partners because our visual system picks them out due to perceptual fluency, then we may still have an evolved mechanism to prefer averageness.

The coauthor on this study, Lori Roggman wrote:

…I lean much more strongly toward the prototype than the health hypothesis. Nevertheless, the two perspectives are not at all incompatible. I suspect that the reproductive advantage of attraction to averageness is epiphenomenal, taking advantage of the perceived attractiveness of a prototypical face.

Winkielman actually places his theory in opposition to evo psych, it looks like there may be ways to reconcile these two ideas of why we find average faces attractive.