Symmetry really is sexy say scientists
A “beauty spot”, wonky nose or a lopsided grin are a turnoff, according to a study published today that shows that symmetry is sexy.
Research to find whether symmetrical faces are more or less attractive in the UK and the Hadza of Tanzania, one of the last hunter gatherer cultures, has found that a symmetrical face is indeed a turn on, whatever your culture.
The find, resulting from presenting a series of faces for inspection by 80 Britons and 40 Hadza challenges feminist ideas, epitomised by the American writer Naomi Wolf, who argued that there is no such thing as a quality called beauty that “objectively and universally exists”.
Even the father of evolution, Charles Darwin was struck by cultural differences in attractiveness. He wrote: “It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standards of beauty with respect to the human body.”
Today, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, research by Dr Anthony Little of the University of Stirling, working with colleagues Coren Apicella at Harvard University and Frank Marlowe Florida State University, shows that symmetry transcends racial and national boundaries: a lopsided face is less attractive to both Hadza and Britons, so that the age-old idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is a romantic myth.
This adds to mounting evidence that our appreciation of beauty has a deep-seated biological explanation: the attraction of a face gives a profound insight into whether our intended will efficiently pass our genes on to future generations.
” Symmetry has been shown to be important in mate-choice in many animals.
For example, female Swallows prefer males with symmetrical tail feathers,” said Dr Little. “While there may be cultural variation in preferences for other traits, we show that symmetry in faces is attractive across two very different cultures.”
Coren Apicella added that the Hadza live in small bands and survive by hunting and gathering and ” have very little exposure to Western standards of beauty having seen only a few White people. “
However, the Hadza had stronger preferences for symmetry than those in the UK.
They speculate that symmetry may be more important among the Hadza because they have much higher mortality rates from birth onwards.
“The harder life of the Hadza might make traits associated with quality, like symmetry, more important in a partner,” said Dr Little. “Those men seen as the best hunters were choosier.
This might reflect that such men are more valued by women and then can set higher standards for their partners.”
“This suggests that Darwin was both right and wrong – face symmetry is a generally attractive trait across cultures but there also exists variability in preference for symmetry between cultures,” said Dr Little.
From the cold-eyed perspective of Darwinian evolution, the mating game has a single purpose: to mix our genes with another person’s to help ours survive and propagate – the more the better.
We seek a partner with good looks because this is a biological advert that says good genes are to be found in this particular body to help our own genes thrive in the next generation.
Lopsidedness is thought to reflect how development in the womb has been derailed by poor health, alcohol and tobacco use and studies have shown that women partnered to men with symmetrical bodies have the most orgasms, and those with symmetrical breasts are more fertile than those less evenly endowed.