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Do You Know Attractiveness When You See It?

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Originally posted on August 28, 2014.

When your friend tells you about her terrific first date, you will eventually ask the question. You might stall by inquiring about the food she ate, the jokes he told, and the outfit she wore. Eventually, you’ll ask: Is he cute?

Recent research suggests that you’ll know how she arrived at her answer.  An in-depth analysis of 1,000 facial images identified three main ingredients of attractiveness:

  • Approachability, or how friendly a person seems. A large mouth, wide nose, and curvy bottom lip were some of the strongest predictors of approachability.
  • Youthful-attractiveness. Here, the eyes have it. To seem youthful, have large eyes. You should also avoid sporting a moustache or beard.
  • Dominance. Looking dominant relates to having angular cheeks, large eyebrows, and slightly dark skin.

These are some of the strongest predictors of each attractiveness ingredient. Of course, they don’t tell you much about people’s sense of humor, clothing style, or hobbies. For that, you’ll have to take the plunge and actually meet them. She might have large eyes and a curvy bottom lip, but would you want to date someone who never laughed at your jokes? I doubt it. Or what about an angular-cheeked, naturally tan man who always turns heads but also is profoundly dull and shallow? Maybe give him a fake phone number when he asks for yours.

Attractiveness matters, especially during the initial passionate stages of a relationship. But there are many ingredients that are far more important than attractiveness when selecting a mate. Trust is key. Think about it: Would you rather date an attractive compulsive liar, or a less attractive person who always tells the truth? Self-control also fosters relationship success. Highly self-controlled people, compared with their sluggardly counterparts, are more forgiving, generous, and less aggressive.

So, it’s natural to wonder whether your friend’s date is cute. You might not ask whether he has a large mouth, angular cheeks, or big eyes. But if she says, “Yes, he’s gorgeous,” you can be confident that he received an extra helping of some of these attractiveness ingredients.

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About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”