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  • What makes a person particularly attractive to another person, specifically the opposite sex?
  • Why would the brain evolve this trait to target specific genes (that make someone look pretty), and exclude others (that make someone look ugly)?

This seems to differ from the accepted idea that ancient female humans were attracted to stronger, more able bodied men due to survival instinct. Facial features seem to have nothing to do with survival or natural selection.

  • So, why are facial features significant to assessing beauty?
  • Also, how does the brain process physical features as good or bad?
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check out this review article The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty – Jeromy Anglim Jun 12 '13 at 2:30
High symmetry means that your body was under good conditions during development and probably has high fitness, this is because symmetry is hard to maintain. Your brain is tuned to detecting very subtle features of faces for other social interaction reasons, and so you hijack that mechanism to check for symmetry instead of developing a new system for looking carefully for symmetry in non-facial features. That being said, faces aren't the end of the game, you also have classic metric like waist-hip, etc. – Artem Kaznatcheev Jun 12 '13 at 5:31
@ArtemKaznatcheev There are symmetric but ugly faces. – what Jun 12 '13 at 6:51
Some research found that people disagree (!) on what is beautiful (i.e. what one person likes, another may well dislike), but that people agree on what they find ugly. So not beauty but ugliness seems to be the norm from which different kinds of beauty deviate. The problem with research finding averageness and symmetry to be signs of beauty, is that researchers take all faces that different people found beautiful and create the average "beautiful" face from that. But in fact this face is no longer found beautiful when the smooth skin that results from image overlap is replaced by real skin. – what Jun 12 '13 at 6:57
E.g. versus symmetry: – what Jun 12 '13 at 7:11
up vote 8 down vote accepted

With regard to your first question about the psychological processes of interpersonal attraction there are (at least) 4 factors that have been found in the social psychology literature.

  • Contextual Aspects. People are more likely to develop attraction towards those they see more frequently than others. This is known as the Mere Exposure Effect (Saegert, Swap & Zajonc, 1973).
  • Attributes of the Target Person. The perceived attractiveness (for example of the face) is another factor. The comments point to resources regarding this aspect.
  • Attributes of the Perceiver. Mood has an effect on interpersonal attraction. Being in a positive mood makes a person more likely to develop attraction (Gouaux, 1971).
  • Aspects of the relationship between Perceiver and Target Person. Perceived similarity has an effect on interpersonal attraction (Byrne, 1971). Similarities can serve as a positive reinforcement of the attitudes of the perceiver. They are also the foundation for common activities and also which in turn lead to closer relationship.


Byrne, D. E. (1971). The attraction paradigm (Bd. 11). New York: Academic Press.

Condon, J. W., & Crano, W. D. (1988). Inferred evaluation and the relation between attitude similarity and interpersonal attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(5), 789.

Gouaux, C. (1971). Induced affective states and interpersonal attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 20, 37–43.

Saegert, S., Swap, W., & Zajonc, R. B. (1973). Exposure, context, and interpersonal attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 25(2), 234-242.

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