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Common Elements of Physicial Attraction

Physical attractiveness is the perception of an individual as physically beautiful by other people. Some aspects of how a person is judged beautiful are universal to all cultures, whereas others are restricted to particular cultures or time periods. Physical attractiveness can have a huge effect on how people are judged — people tend to attribute positive characteristics such as intelligence and honesty to attractive people without consciously realizing it.

Physical attractiveness is distinct from sexual attractiveness. For example, people often regard children — both human and animal — as being highly physically attractive or 'cute' because of their relatively large eyes, but without sexual attraction.

What is Considered Physically Attractive?
One's own culture has a strong effect in determining who a person considers as physically attractive. As children grow up, they learn what their culture considers attractive. Movies and cartoons, frequently portray the villain as being ugly, whereas the protagonist is depicted as attractive. Children are shown examples of what is considered as beauty in the form of dolls and pictures on magazine covers. Perception of what is considered as attractive and appealing is also very heavily influenced by other dominant cultures and the impact of their value systems.

Cultures Agree on Beauty
That said, cultures tend to agree on what is attractive. There is a strong correlation between judgments of attractiveness between cultures. Furthermore, infants, who presumably have not yet been affected by culture, tend to prefer the same faces considered attractive by adults. This implies that a large part of attractiveness is determined by inborn human nature, not nurture.

Strong correlations between attractiveness and particular physical properties have been found, across cultures. One of the more important properties is symmetry, which is also associated with physical health. Large clear eyes are also important.

Proportion of Body Mass to Body Structure
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is another important universal determinant to the perception of beauty. The BMI refers to the proportion of the body mass to the body structure. However, in various cultures, the optimal body proportion is interpreted differently due to cultural learnings and traditions. The Western ideal considers a slim and slender body mass as optimal while many ancient traditions and Asian societies considers an embonpoint or plump body-mass as appealing. In either case the underlying rule applied in determining beauty is the BMI and hence displays how cultural differences of beauty operate on universal principles of human evolution.

The slim ideal does not consider an emaciated body as attractive, just as the full-rounded ideal does not celebrate the over-weight or the obese. The cultural leanings are therefore just social emphasis on specific phenotypes within a parameter of optimal BMI.

The attraction for a proportionate body also influences an appeal for erect posture.

The Beauty Prototype
Besides biology and culture, there are other factors determining physical attractiveness. The more familiar a face seems, the more highly it is judged, an example of the mere exposure effect. It is seen that when many faces are combined into a composite image (through computer morphing), people find the resultant image as familiar and attractive, and even more beautiful than the faces that went into it. One interpretation is that this shows an inherent human preference for prototypicality. That is, the resultant face emerges with the salient features shared by most faces and hence becomes the prototype. The prototypical face and features is therefore perceived as symmetrical and familiar. This reveals an "underlying preference for the familiar and safe over the unfamiliar and potentially dangerous" (Berscheid and Reis, 1998). However, critics of this interpretation point out that compositing computer images also has the effect of removing skin blemishes such as scars and generally softens sharp facial features.

Classical conceptions of beauty are essentially a celebration of this prototypicality. It celebrates the extra-ordinary (from the latin root meaning over or extremely-ordinary) as the prototype or most beautiful.

The phenotype of one's own mother during the early years of childhood becomes the basis for the perception of optimal body mass index (BMI). This shows the importance of prototypicality in the judgment of beauty, and also explains the emergence of similarity of the perception of attractiveness within a community or society, which shares a gene pool.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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