Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Beauty And The Brain

Date:
September 27, 2006
Source:
University of California - San Diego
Summary:
The phrase "easy on the eyes" may hit closer to the mark than we suspected. Experiments led by Piotr Winkielman, of the University of California, San Diego, and published in the current issue of Psychological Science, suggest that judgments of attractiveness depend on mental processing ease, or being "easy on the mind."

The phrase "easy on the eyes" may hit closer to the mark than we suspected.

Related Articles


Experiments led by Piotr Winkielman, of the University of California, San Diego, and published in the current issue of Psychological Science, suggest that judgments of attractiveness depend on mental processing ease, or being "easy on the mind."

"What you like is a function of what your mind has been trained on," Winkielman said. "A stimulus becomes attractive if it falls into the average of what you've seen and is therefore simple for your brain to process. In our experiments, we show that we can make an arbitrary pattern likeable just by preparing the mind to recognize it quickly."

The research follows up on earlier studies establishing that prototypical images are rated as more beautiful or appealing than variations of the same thing. The phenomenon -- sometimes known as the "beauty-in-averageness effect" -- was first discovered in the late 1800s and was perhaps most dramatically illustrated by Judith Langlois' lab, at the University of Texas at Austin, in the 1990s, when people scored computer composites of 16 faces higher than any of the individual component faces (i.e. the very faces that had gone into creating the mathematically averaged image in the first place).

Other work has since demonstrated that humans have similar preferences for prototypes in a wide variety of other categories, including dogs, birds, fish, cars and even watches.

Yet the question "why?" has remained open. A popular explanation has been an evolutionary, sexual-selection one that goes something as follows: Like symmetry (another reliable predictor of attractiveness), prototypicality signals health and fitness -- unusually protuberant eyes might be a clue to disease, for example -- and so is a kind of shorthand for the value of a potential mate.

But whereas that explanation makes intuitive sense when it comes to human faces, Winkielman said, it strains credulity when applied to inanimate objects or animals of a different species, which we are presumably not assessing for reproductive purposes.

So Winkielman, with colleagues from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and the University of Denver, wondered if there wasn't a more basic mechanism at work.

It is well-known that prototypes are attractive, the researchers reasoned. It is also well-known that prototypes are easy for the brain to process (as measured by the speed with which people are able to categorize what it is they're looking at). So, could it be, they asked, that prototypes are beautiful because they're easy to process?

Working with random-dot and geometric patterns -- in an attempt to "use stimuli that were free of reproductive content," Winkielman says, and would "get at a general principle of cognition" -- Winkielman and his colleagues first "prepared" participants' brains to perceive a prototype and then asked them to categorize different degrees of variations around that same prototype and rate their appeal.

"As predicted," the researchers write, "participants categorized patterns more quickly and judged them as more attractive when the patterns were closer to their respective prototypes."

And: "Critically, the less time it took participants to classify a pattern, the more attractive they judged it."

Even more significant, Winkielman said, is that when processing ease was controlled -- when, that is, the categorization speed was factored out of the equation -- much of the relationship between closeness to prototype and attractiveness disappeared.

A third experiment -- again with abstract, random-dot images -- was performed with electrode measurements at cheek and brow muscles (to detect the formation of incipient smiles or frowns) and, without having to rely on reported ratings, confirmed a genuine positive response to those images that were closest to prototype.

"It seems you don't need to postulate an unconscious calculator of mate value or any other 'programmed-brain' argument to explain why prototypical images are more attractive," Winkielman said. "The mental mechanism appears to be extremely simple: facilitate processing of certain objects and they ring a louder bell.

"This parsimonious explanation," he said, "accounts for cultural differences in beauty -- and historical differences in beauty as well -- because beauty basically depends on what you've been exposed to and what is therefore easy on your mind."

Coauthors are Jamin Halberstadt, Tedra Fazendeiro and Steve Catty. The research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant to Winkielman and an Otago Research Grant to Halberstadt.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - San Diego. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - San Diego. "Beauty And The Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 September 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060926171101.htm>.
University of California - San Diego. (2006, September 27). Beauty And The Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060926171101.htm
University of California - San Diego. "Beauty And The Brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060926171101.htm (accessed April 24, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, April 24, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Judge OKs 65-Year Deal Over NFL Concussions

Judge OKs 65-Year Deal Over NFL Concussions

AP (Apr. 23, 2015) A judge has approved a potential $1 billion plan to resolve thousands of NFL concussion lawsuits filed by retired players. The NFL expects 6,000 of nearly 20,000 retired players to suffer from Alzheimer&apos;s disease or moderate dementia someday.(April 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Research Says Complex Tools Might Not Be 'Our Thing' Anymore

Research Says Complex Tools Might Not Be 'Our Thing' Anymore

Newsy (Apr. 21, 2015) The use of complex tools has often been seen as a defining characteristic of humanity, but that notion is now in question. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers found a spike in oxytocin occurs in both humans and dogs when they gaze into each other&apos;s eyes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers who analyzed data from over 300,000 kids and their mothers say they&apos;ve found a link between gestational diabetes and autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins