Easy on the Eyes, Easy on the Mind

Remember the studies back in the nineties about what makes someone’s face attractive? Judith Langlois et. al. discovered that the most attractive faces turned out to be the ones that were the average composite of all the faces in a large population study.

Images were posted across Newsweek and other trade magazines about how beautiful was really only average. Now web sites have sprung up like Beautycheck with all the details.

Das durchschnittliche FrauengesichtDas durchschnittliche Männergesicht
Left: averaged female face, made of 64 female faces; right: averaged male face, made of 32 male faces.

But wait, there’s more. In a recently published paper Piotr Winkielman, Jamin Halberstadt, Tedra Fazendeiro, and Steve Catty report that this notion of average beauty simply arises through the fact that the repeated stimulus of a series of patterns presented to the eyes condition a person to recognize the expected average easily, efficiently (in terms of energy) and rapidly, and that the ease in recognition eventually translates from familiar into beautiful.

“What you like is a function of what your mind has been trained on,” Winkielman said. “A stimulus becomes attractive if it falls into the average of what you’ve seen and is therefore simple for your brain to process. In our experiments, we show that we can make an arbitrary pattern likeable just by preparing the mind to recognize it quickly.”

“Critically, the less time it took participants to classify a pattern, the more attractive they judged it.”

So easy on the eyes really is easy on the Brain.

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