On this page you will find summaries of some recent articles.


Self-rated attractiveness and preference:

Masculine features and symmetry are both proposed to be attractive in human male faces as they are thought to honestly signal quality. In other species female quality influences preferences for quality in males. This paper examines how female self-rated attractiveness influences male face preference using computer manipulated faces and demonstrates that there is an increased preference for both masculinity and symmetry in women who regard themselves as attractive. It is likely that high quality men invest less the lower the quality of the woman. Quality dependent preferences may thus be adaptive for low quality women to avoid low investment partners.

Reference: Little AC, Burt DM, Penton-Voak, IS, & Perrett DI (2001). Self-perceived attractiveness influences human female preferences for sexual dimorphism and symmetry in male faces. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 268, 39-44.


Context, partnership and preference:

Masculine characteristics may indicate health and genetic benefits to offspring but high masculinity may be associated with costs of decreased paternal care. We examined women’s preferences for masculinity in male faces using computer graphics to allow transformation between feminine and masculine versions of individual faces. We found that preferences for masculinity are increased when women either have a partner or are considering for short-term relationships. Such preferences are potentially adaptive, serving to maximise parental investment/co-operation in long-term relationships and genetic benefits to offspring in short-term or extra-pair relationships. We also found that use of oral contraception may disrupt these adaptive choices.

Reference: Little AC, Jones, BC, Penton-Voak IS, Burt DM, & Perrett DI (2002). Partnership status and the temporal context of relationships influence human female preferences for sexual dimorphism in male face shape. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 269, 1095-1100.


Face inversion and preference:

Symmetry is found attractive by many animals and in humans symmetrical faces are also attractive. Two explanations have been proposed to account for symmetry preferences: (1) the evolutionary advantage view, which posits that symmetry advertises mate-quality and (2) the perceptual bias view, which posits that symmetry preferences are a consequence of greater ease of processing symmetrical images in the visual system. In other words, symmetry may be an attractive quality in human faces either because people with symmetrical faces would make good mates (the evolutionary advantage view), or simply due to a “trick” of the visual system (the perceptual bias view). Here we show symmetry preferences are greater when face images are upright than when inverted. This is evidence against a simple perceptual bias view, which suggests symmetry preference should be constant across orientation about a vertical axis. We also show that symmetry is preferred even in familiar faces, a finding that is unexpected by perceptual bias views positing that symmetry is only attractive because it represents a familiar prototype of that particular class of stimuli. This data favours the interpretation that a preference for symmetry in human faces is the result of evolutionary pressures on mate-selection and not the result of a simple perceptual bias. Reference: Little AC & Jones BC (2003). Evidence against perceptual bias views for symmetry preferences in human faces. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B., 270, 1759-1763.


Face preference reflects desired personality:

The personality of a potential partner is very important when choosing an individual who we will potentially spend our lives with. Previous research has highlighted that individuals pair up with people who have similar personalities to their own. For example, sociable people pair up with partners who are also sociable. In our study we examined perceived personality to see whether individuals where making decisions about personality based only on appearance. We generated computer graphic faces based on attractiveness ratings of individuals who differed in their desires in a partner. For example, we blended together all the features of faces that were attractive to people who desired an easy-going partner and all of the features that were attractive to people who did not value this trait. We found that these two faces did differ in perceived personality, indicating that the personality desired in a partner is reflected in face preference. If a trait is desired, then faces perceived to possess that trait are found more attractive than faces which do not possess that trait. These findings highlight individual differences in attractiveness judgements – there is no ideal face that is attractive to everybody, though being seen to possess personality traits that are generally attractive may be important in making an individual’s face attractive. Reference: Little AC, Burt DM, & Perrett DI (2006). What is good is beautiful: Face preference reflects desired personality. Personality and Individual Differences.


Attraction independent of detection:

It is often hard to articulate why we are attracted to certain people. Symmetry in faces is attractive but individuals do not necessarily realise this trait influences their attraction. Here we show that detecting symmetry and preferring symmetry may occur via different brain mechanisms. We found that while people preferred symmetry in upright faces they did not when the faces were turned upside down. In contrast people were able to detect symmetry, by saying which of two images was more symmetric, at similar levels in both upright and inverted faces. We also found that an individual’s ability to detect facial symmetry was not related to their preferences for facial symmetry. Taken together, these findings suggest that symmetry preferences are driven by a mechanism that is independent of conscious detection. A specialized mechanism for symmetry preference independent of detection may be the result of specific pressures faced by human ancestors to select high-quality mates and could support a modular view of mate choice.

Reference: Little AC & Jones BC (2006). Attraction independent of detection suggests special mechanisms for symmetry preferences in human face perception. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B.