Close relations exhibit greater agreement on the attractiveness of faces

December 12, 2007

A new study from researchers at Harvard University shows that friends, siblings and spouses are more likely than strangers to agree on the attractiveness of faces. Recent research regarding facial attractiveness has emphasized the universality of attractiveness preferences, and in this study there was some agreement among the strangers - but the close relations were in even greater agreement regarding facial attractiveness.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Perception, and was led by Richard Russell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and Matthew Bronstad a postdoctoral researcher at the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. The work was done while Bronstad was with Brandeis University.

“While there are some universal standards of beauty, this study shows that perception and standards of attractiveness are more likely to be shared among individuals who know each other well,” says Russell.

In the study, 113 participants were asked to rate 74 faces on a scale from one to seven, from very attractive to very unattractive. Among the participants were 20 pairs of spouses, 20 pairs of siblings and 41 pairs of close friends. Each of the pairs completed the test separately, so that they could not influence each other’s ratings. The participants ranged widely in age, but were of a similar background, and were all North American and caucasian. The faces rated were all young and caucasian.

Participants who were part of a pair of close relations were also paired with another individual who they had not met, in order to form a pair of strangers. In analyzing the ratings, the researchers found that while the strangers’ ratings of the faces were often similar, which was consistent with previous findings, the ratings of the spouses, siblings and close friends were markedly more in agreement.

Previous research has shown that while there are cross-cultural standards of beauty, there is greater agreement about facial beauty within cultures. This study narrows the focus of preferences for beauty within even smaller groups: individuals who know each other well and have personal relationships.

The researchers theorized that this greater agreement among close relations could stem from several different causes. Interestingly, the number of years that the pairs of people spent in daily contact was related to the strength of their agreement on facial attractiveness. This could be because those individuals who spent a great deal amount of time together saw many of the same faces on a day-to-day basis.

“Because close relations know and see many of the same people, their visual ‘diet’ of faces has been similar. It’s likely that repeated visual exposure to the same faces could have an effect on their perception of what makes a face attractive,” says Bronstad.

Further research will explore the possibility that attractiveness preferences are genetically determined. However, the siblings’ ratings of the faces were not more closely correlated than those of the spouses or the close friends, which suggests that genetics is not the sole cause of facial attractiveness preferences.

Source: Harvard University

Explore further: Frogs resolve computing issues

Related Stories

Frogs resolve computing issues

October 7, 2015

When male Japanese tree frogs sing at the same time, the females cannot differentiate between them in order to choose the best one. Therefore, the would-be suitors have come to an agreement and sing one by one. This natural ...

UCF, Holochip in Licensing Agreement for Zoom Lens Patents

July 20, 2007

The University of Central Florida has signed a licensing agreement with Holochip Corp. for a portfolio of technologies that will allow zoom lenses, such as those used in digital cameras and camera phones, to be manufactured ...

Apple turning closed Arizona facility into data center

February 2, 2015

Apple said Monday it will invest $2 billion over 10 years to open a data center in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa that will be the company's fifth in the U.S. and serve as a control facility for its global networks.

AT&T's great wireless war

December 7, 2011

Think of AT&T Inc.'s $39 billion attempted takeover of German-owned T-Mobile USA as a long, multi-front war, the ultimate test of business, legal and political strategy.

Energy innovation into a headwind

September 10, 2013

The public authorities in Japan are putting all their efforts into establishing a new industry based on floating offshore wind turbines. In Norway we have already developed the technology they need. So researchers are asking ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.