WHAT MAKES A FACE ATTRACTIVE?
The debate over the definition of beauty has been waged by both scientists and philosophers for centuries. Based upon our research, we believe that a facial configuration close to the population mean is fundamental to attractiveness.
To test this and related questions, we create images that are averages of various numbers of faces using image morphing technology called Morph Age. We use images of male and female college students to create composites of multiple faces. After taking two images of faces and defining the curves of different facial features like the hairline, eyebrows, outer eyes, irises, nose, mouth, and lip line, Morph Age produces averages of the referenced pixels. We are able to repeat this process, combining two 2-face morphs to create 4-face morphs, two 4-face morphs to create 8-face morphs, two 8-face morphs to create 16-face morphs, and two 16-face morphs to create 32-face morphs.
Additionally, we have found that individual 32-face morphs (each made of completely different individual faces) end up appearing undoubtedly similar.
College students rated the male and female composite faces as significantly higher in attractiveness than the individual faces used to create them if the composite had at least 16 different faces in them. Thus, averaged (i.e. arithmetical mean, not average-looking) faces are considered to be attractive (see Langlois & Roggman, 1990; Langlois et al., 1994). If, for example, you take a female composite (averaged) face made of 32 different faces and overlay it on the face of an extremely attractive female model, the two images will often line up closely, indicating that the model’s facial configuration is very similar to the composite’s facial configuration.
Other researchers have suggested that the symmetry or youthfulness is what makes a face attractive. Although we agree that symmetry or youthfulness can contribute to the attractiveness of a face, it does not necessarily make a face attractive. We have shown that faces can be highly symmetrical or youthful, but are not necessarily attractive (see Rubenstein , Langlois, & Roggman, 2002). Thus, we view averageness as fundamental and necessary to facial attractiveness. Averageness is not the only component of attractiveness, but without it, no face will be attractive.