Beauty: More Than Skin Deep

Asian woman wearing a shiny silk shirt
Beauty Judgments
Is beauty only skin deep, or is it what’s inside that really matters? According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Binghamton University, beauty involves far more than mere physical appearance.
In the study, published in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behavior, researchers found that people view the physical appearance of those they know differently than that of strangers. These results indicate that evaluations of beauty concern more than what is visible to the eye.
In the past, studies of beauty have focused in individual factors, such as hip-to-waist ratio’s and facial symmetry. Several previous studies discovered that men found women with specific hip-to-waist ratios more attractive. A number of other studies have shown that people whose faces are highly symmetrical are seen as being more beautiful than those who are less symmetrical.
Researcher Kevin Kifflin notes, "You can find study after study that focuses on which waist-to-hip ratios or particular facial features people find physically attractive, and these studies have captured popular attention.” What these earlier studies fail to account for, however, is other influences on how we evaluate the beauty of others.
Is Beauty More Than Skin Deep?
As many may quickly realize, the things we find beautiful in other people often go far beyond the visible. Aspects of personality and our personal relationships with the individual can play a part in how we see them. The results of this current study demonstrate the affect that non-visual factors have on how we perceive beauty.
The study was conducted by asking participants to rate the beauty of both people they knew and complete strangers. In each instance, researchers found that other factors such as how much the individual was liked and respected played a major role in the assessment of beauty. In one part of the study, researchers had participants look at faces in their own high school yearbook and a yearbook belonging to a stranger. The results were sometimes dramatic, with participants immediately recalling the unsavory characteristics of former classmates and calling them unattractive as a result.
The authors note that according to evolutionary theory, most animals and humans select mates that are more likely to increase the chance of successful survival and reproduction. While physical aspects are an important part of this selection process, study co-author David Sloan Wilson notes that, for human beings, "the fitness value of potential social partners depends at least as much on non-physical traits -- whether they are cooperative, dependable, brave, hardworking, intelligent and so on -- as physical factors, such as smooth skin and symmetrical features."
Enhancing Your Own Beauty
Everyday we encounter advertisement and images in the media that encourage us to invest money in a product or outfit that will make us beautiful. Based on the results of this study, we should look toward other means of self-improvement to find true beauty. “If you want to enhance your physical attractiveness, become a valuable social partner,” the researchers suggest.
Photo: Halfbottle/Shutterstock
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