I’ve always thought that studies about universally attractive features were kind of moot. In real heart-pumping human life, physical attractiveness rarely exists in a vacuum and whether science agrees or not our reasons for being attracted to one another are rarely something to be reasoned with.
Still, science has long suggested that there are certain characteristics that humans find universally attractive — small noses, flat faces, and a higher craniofacial ratio (which as far as I can tell basically means high foreheads, but not exactly foreheads, because it’s less about where your hairline starts and more about where the top of your head is in relation to your facial features. Anyway, science has agreed for years that these fundamental baselines for attractiveness exist, but a recent study of silver foxes — the actual animal, not Anderson Cooper — may have unwittingly at long last revealed why.
Cambridge University’s Irene Elia analyzed a farm fox study in which foxes were bred for tameness and receptiveness towards humans, or friendliness, for lack of a more technical word. Over a period of fifty years this caused physical changes in the facial features of the fox breed — namely smaller noses, flatter faces, and higher foreheads. Which is significant because — YES, A+! — those are the exact same features that science has repeatedly shown humans find generally attractive across races and cultures. Weird right? But wait … it gets weirder.
We actually may not be as shallow as we thought.
Elia points out that most studies on beauty over the past thirty years have treated physical attractiveness as indicators of fitness and sexual prowess for breeding potential. But if “selecting’ for a friendlier personality in foxes effected their facial features, then Elia concludes there is evidence that those universally attractive traits are in fact subconsciously signaling that the person we’re oogling would make a pleasant life partner rather than just a productive romp in the sack.
Ultimately, Elia determines that the link is likely hormonal, that the neurotransmitters that create friendly characteristics also impact physical appearance. Still, it’s fascinating to think that assumptions behind the science of beauty have been wrong all these years. I think it just goes to show how unscientific the effect that love and personality have on beauty really is. I mean, If friendliness is really the most attractive quality, than how do you explain all the popular girls in high school (and Hollywood) with uptight resting faces? HUH SCIENCE? SCIENCE YOUR WAY OUT OF THAT.
Image courtesy of Peter Trimming on Flickr.