Scientific proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder

When you and your BFF are talking about your celebrity crushes, why do you think Benedict Cumberbatch is absolute perfection when she doesn’t see what all the fuss is about? Is it because of predetermined Cumber-lovin’ genes, or experiences (such as watching Sherlock and becoming attached to his brooding, brilliant character) that made you adore him?

We’ve all heard the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — in other words, the person who’s doing the observing gets to decide what’s beautiful and what’s not. But aside from being a well-known turn of phrase, it’s also been a question scientists have been debating for decades — whether what you find beautiful is a product of your genes or your environment.

Recent research suggests that, although there are some predetermined genetic factors (being attracted to certain heights or builds, for example), facial beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. In a study entitled “Individual Aesthetic Preferences for Faces Are Shaped Mostly by Environments, Not Genes” published in Current Biology, researchers asked 547 pairs of identical twins and 214 pairs of same-gender fraternal twins to look at 200 faces and rate them on a scale of attractiveness. (Twins are often used for nature vs. nurture experiments.) Then, the researchers had 660 others — not twins — complete the survey as well.

The thinking here was that, if assessment of beauty had mostly to do with genetics, the twins would have similar results for their surveys, and if it had to do with family environment, fraternal twins would have had similar results for theirs.

However, neither of these were the case; most of the twins had very different results. The results guide researchers to believe that, when it comes to beauty, it is very based in our individual experiences.

“The types of environments that are important are not those that are shared by those who grow up in the same family, but are much more subtle and individual, potentially including things such as one’s unique, highly personal experiences with friends or peers, as well as social and popular media,” said US researcher Dr Laura Germine, from Harvard University.

Next time someone tells me Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t attractive, I’ll smile and say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” (Then I’ll think really loudly, “EXCEPT YOU’RE WRONG. SO WRONG.”)

By the way, if you want to be a part of Harvard’s ongoing study, you can take their facial attractiveness test, right here.

(Image via Allied Artists Pictures)


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