Attractiveness research - Attraktivitätsforschung

Dante Gabriel Rossetti , The Beloved (1866)
Symmetry, childlike facial features and flawless skin are universally perceived as attractive

The attractiveness of research deals with the investigation of the appeal of the people, especially in terms of its physical conditions, its essential characteristics, his social position, his professional success, his material well-being, his personality charisma. It cannot be assigned to a specific subject area, but is operated in a large number of scientific disciplines, such as psychology , neurosciences , behavioral research or economics .

Development of attractiveness research


The scientific and philosophical examination of the ideal of beauty and the phenomenon of its attraction to other people goes back to ancient Greece in European culture. You encounter it again later in the publications Plotinus , in the high medieval epic and in the aesthetic writings of Friedrich Schiller , for example in the essay Grace and Dignity from 1793. Also poets like Friedrich Hölderlin or Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his educational novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship Years (1795 / 96) have dealt with this intensively.

The question already preoccupied the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates , under whose initiative and maeutical discussion, circles made up of important Athenian citizens, scholars and state leaders such as Alkibiades , systematically discussed the role of beauty in connection with Eros . The contents and methods of the scientific procedure at that time are available to us in dialogue form through his pupil Plato , for example in the symposium, the "banquet", impressively handed down. The notion of a connection between physical and spiritual beauty as an essential characteristic of the noble person found its conceptual expression in the word Kalokagathia . The term Kalokagathia (= "beauty and goodness" - kalós kai agathós ) manifested the conviction that inner and outer beauty are an ideal (at least worth striving for) and that they cause the actual attraction of eros. [1] Ancient sculptors such as Myron converted the ideal into works of art and contrasted the graceful youth with images of an athlete's face battered by pankration , the extremely brutal "all-fight". [2]

A closer body-focused exploration of human beauty began in the late 1960s. At first it was mainly American social scientistswho were mainly interested in the effects of physical attractiveness on various types of interpersonal relationships, such as the willingness to help other people. While the first attractiveness researchers still assumed that beauty was "in the eye of the beholder", the studies carried out in the 1980s on judging agreement revealed that different people are quite similar in their judgments of beauty. The question of which characteristics distinguish attractive faces and bodies has now come to the fore. Since the mid-1980s, evolutionary psychological approaches that ask about the biological “meaning” of attractiveness have increasingly played a role in attractiveness research. Until today theEvolutionary psychology has remained the dominant (though not unchallenged) theoretical paradigm of attractiveness research.

Current developments

With the introduction of modern imaging methods in brain research, neurosciences have found their way into attractiveness research since the mid-1990s . With the help of functional magnetic resonance tomography , the brain structures involved in the attractiveness judgment and the underlying neuronal processes are researched. The search for the physiological foundations of aesthetic perception goes partly beyond human beauty and includes - under the flag of "neuroesthetics" - all kinds of aesthetic objects and experiences such as works of art or music . Economics toohave recently been involved in research into human attractiveness. With the help of game theory approaches, they investigate the question of how social exchange relationships are influenced by appearance. For some years now, the concept of “attractiveness” has been expanding noticeably, especially within the research on attractiveness influenced by evolutionary psychology. In addition to the visual attractiveness of the face and body, body odor , voice and movements have now become the subject of research. The question of the nature and origin of inter-individual differences in the perception of attractiveness is increasingly coming to the fore. (Why can some people "smell" each other while others can't?)


The research on attractiveness focuses on the following questions:

  • To what extent do people agree on their beauty judgment?
  • Which features of the face or body are perceived as attractive?
  • How does the attractiveness of a person affect the social context?
  • What role does attractiveness play in choosing a partner?
  • What is the biological “sense” of beauty?

Assessment of beauty

Above all, German-speaking attractiveness researchers (e.g. Ronald Henss) have dealt extensively with the question of whether judges agree when assessing the attractiveness of faces. Accordingly, roughly half of our judgment of attractiveness is subjective, the other half we have in common with other people. [3] This (relative) consensus seems to be cross-cultural, provided that the respective assessors are familiar with the ethnic groups in questionare familiar. A white European, for example, largely agrees with Japanese evaluators when assessing a Japanese face - provided that he has already had "experience" with Japanese faces (e.g. has Japanese people in his circle of acquaintances). Men and women have certain differences in their beauty judgments (women, for example, are a little more reserved than men with good grades, especially when it comes to men's faces), but on the whole both sexes agree fairly well (as are different age groups or social classes do).

Karl Grammer et al. identified eight “pillars” of beauty: youthfulness, symmetry, averageness, sex hormone markers, body odor, movement, skin color and hair texture. [4]

Age and gender-specific stereotypes influence the assessment of attractiveness . For women, according to the traditional, stereotypical gender role, physical (sexual) attractiveness is ascribed to them and the ideal of femininity and beauty is equated with youthfulness. Also in the choice of partner youthful sexual attractiveness dominates as an evaluation criterion of women like Ursula Richter (sociologist) has found in studies. [5]This prescribed and idealized image of beauty and femininity, which many women experience as inadequate at a young age, becomes more and more inevitable for everyone with increasing age, as Christina Schachtner shows. "The more the story of a woman digs into her face and shape over the years, the more unmistakable it becomes, the less it corresponds to the propagated concept of femininity," says Schachtner. [6] This results in a disadvantage for older women, as Ursula Lehr (age researcher) shows. [7] [8] For example, wrinkles in men are not rated as unattractive. More than half of the information provided by the Gesellschaft für Marktforschung (GfK) [9]men surveyed even think that wrinkles are more attractive. Accordingly, more than every second man thinks that he looks more interesting and better with age. Only four out of ten women say that about themselves. Every fourth female interviewee expressly expresses her fear of getting older and therefore unattractive. Although the question of appearance does not seem to be irrelevant for aging men either, possibly as evidence of the physical strength that defines male identity, women are reduced to a much greater extent to their appearance. Aging women therefore fear the slackening or loss of their sexual stimuli in old age and feel inhibited, blocked, locked out and denied their femininity by the signs of old age that are indicated as ugliness.[10][11]

The stereotypical age- and gender-specific expectations influence the perception or assessment of attractiveness. They can also induce discriminatory behavior and a decrease in self-esteem , for example by making older women restrict their range of behavior. If older women align their behavior according to stereotypical expectations, the stereotype is fulfilled and can find confirmation again. [12]

As a result of the softening of traditional, stereotypical gender roles, among other things through better female education / training and the associated financial independence, an increased self-confidence of women can be recorded. Women today are more courageous to make decisions that are not necessarily popular. Yet the social environment still equates feminine beauty with being young.

Which features are perceived as attractive?

  • One of the most astonishing features of attractiveness for the layperson is called averageness: If several faces are superimposed photographically or by computer technology (by so-called " morphing "), the resulting average face is more attractive than the majority of the individual faces from which it emerged.
  • The similarity between the person making the assessment and the person being assessed has an influence on the assessment of attractiveness. In a scientific study, for example, young men had to look at erotic images of women, while at the same time the blink reflex was recorded as an implicit attitude measure. The faces of the women were partially matched to those of the test participants by means of morphing . It was found that under normal conditions the similar women were rated as more attractive. However, when subjects were put under stress, the effect was reversed and dissimilar women were preferred. [13] [14]
  • As one of the strongest attractiveness factors, the flawlessness of the skin is well proven experimentally - the smoother the skin, the more attractive the corresponding face is assessed.
  • The question of whether a face becomes more attractive through symmetry has been extensively researched, but the results are not entirely clear. In some studies, symmetrical faces are perceived as more attractive, in others, however, perfectly symmetrical faces do not do better - in some cases even worse - than less symmetrical ones. However, there is consensus that higher-grade asymmetries are detrimental to the beauty of a face.
  • Attractive female faces have features and proportions that also distinguish children's faces: large eyes, a high forehead, a low jawline. Whether the attractiveness of these features is related to their perceived childliness (so-called " neoteny hypothesis") or whether they reflect the special gender typicity of the face (i.e. the contrast to the male face, which is characterized by a strong jaw, a flat forehead and smaller eyes) is controversial among researchers.
  • So-called. "Maturity signs" (M. Cunningham) in the form of high, accentuated cheekbones and narrow cheeks make women and z. Sometimes men's faces are also more attractive.
  • Full lips look attractive on the female face - possibly because they indicate high levels of female sex hormones (the lips become fuller during puberty under the influence of estrogen ).
Angular male chin
  • On the male face, an angular and pronounced chin is attractive to women . [15] [16] It is indicative of high testosterone levels and has been associated with strength and adventure. This attractiveness also carries the risk of infidelity.
Odalisque von Jules-Joseph Lefebvre

The following criteria of attractiveness are discussed for the figure :

  • One of the most important (and cross-cultural) attractiveness factors for men is height. The height of a woman, on the other hand, is irrelevant for her attractiveness.
  • The ideal body weight and figure vary considerably from epoch to epoch and from culture to culture. Today's preference for very slim female bodies is rather the exception in historical and ethnographic comparisons.
  • In the 1990s, the “waist-to-hip ratio” was introduced into the discussion by the American evolutionary psychologist Devendra Singh as a measure of attractiveness. A ratio of 0.7 was therefore considered optimal. The universality of these “constants” is increasingly being called into question by recent studies. In addition, there is no question that body fullness (measured by the body mass index BMI) plays a much more important role than the waist-to-hip ratio (summary: Swami & Furnham, 2008).

All ideals of beauty are subject to changes in taste and fashion - the norms of beauty relating to the body evidently even more so than those relating to the face. However, this does not mean, as is often claimed, that ideals of beauty are completely arbitrary - as a look at outstanding beauties from different epochs, such as Nefertiti or Michelangelo's David , shows.

How does attractiveness work in a social context?

Attractive people are much more likely to have positive traits such as health, intelligence or good character traits than less attractive ones. Apparently people tend to mix aesthetic ("beautiful") with ethical categories ("good"). This so-called attractiveness stereotypeleads to beautiful people being treated more positively in practically all areas of social life. Pretty children, for example, get better grades in school. Attractive adults can expect milder penalties in court, are more willing to help in emergencies, and - if one compares the most attractive with the least attractive third of the employees - receive around 10 percent higher salaries. A connection between physical attractiveness and electoral success is now also being empirically researched. As well as the effect of the stereotype of attractiveness is well documented, the reasons that lead to equating the beautiful with the good have not been explored. Appropriate socialization- as it is cited as an explanation by many social scientists - is rather unlikely, since the stereotype of attractiveness can already be demonstrated at the age of six months. The fact that the blending of the beautiful with the good can be demonstrated in all cultures, languages ​​and myths speaks against a purely cultural tradition of the stereotype of attractiveness in the sense of socialization. However, the search for the biological roots is still in its infancy.

Attractiveness and choice of partner

For both sexes, social and physical attractiveness are among the most important partner selection criteria . In the preference , men and women differentiate the gradual ranking of the characteristics of attractiveness:

  • Women are more willing to compromise on the factor of visual attractiveness in favor of other qualities, in particular social status and character traits .
  • Men, on the other hand, are much more guided by visual criteria when choosing a partner.

Although this pattern seems to be relativized in the course of greater economic equality for women, it is still largely valid in the current partner market. Older studies came to the conclusion that connections between partners with different social backgrounds are usually women who are inferior to their partners in terms of origins and education - but that they can weigh in on their higher attractiveness. However, if the education of women and men correspond on average to one another, this can no longer play a role logically. In times when most doctors were men, they often married attractive nurses, whereas today doctors are more likely to marry other academics. [17]

In today's more common partnerships between partners of similar origin and education, the partners are also similar in terms of their attractiveness: beautiful people have beautiful partners, less beautiful people, on the other hand, also less beautiful partners. The mechanisms that lead to this attractiveness-based stratification of the partner market are currently being intensively researched on the basis of so-called speed dating .

What is the biological “sense” of beauty?

According to the “good gene hypothesis”, health and fertility are an important criterion for selection. Recognizing high fertility increases the likelihood that a sexual act will produce offspring at all, good health suggests that the partner has no or less harmful mutations that impair them, and is also strong enough to deal with parasites and viruses etc. . To finish. In return for the recognition of high quality, this process by means of sexual selection also has the effect that the representation of one's own high quality becomes important: the easier it is made for a potential partner to recognize one's own high quality, the sooner he becomes a partner choose.

This hypothesis can be based on behavioral findings from the animal kingdom: in many species the most richly ornamented individuals not only have a higher phenotypic oneQuality, but also a more abundant and healthier progeny. In this context, particular importance is attached to the symmetry of the body structure. It is seen by many researchers as a sign of so-called "developmental stability" and thus as an indication of a good genetic makeup. The classic example of a trait resulting from sexual selection is the peacock's tail, which, by its complexity, makes it clear that the carrier does not have any harmful mutations (which would with a certain degree of probability affect the complex pattern) and that it is healthy, otherwise it is could not bear the burdens of the elaborate tail and would be unkempt and disheveled in the event of illness. There is much to suggest that human beauty as wellActs as an indicator of biological or psychological qualities. Certain connections between attractiveness and other “qualities” can be ascertained - especially in the area of ​​social skills, attractive people do better according to an extensive meta-analysis of the existing literature from the year 2000. [18] Symmetry is also highly valued by humans, and women also have physical signs with their breasts that indicate sexual selection: breasts are paired and therefore a good indicator of uniform development, symmetrical breasts are considered attractive, they are also about firmness etc. a sign of youth, which is an important characteristic especially for living beings with long relationships and long resource-intensive rearing times.

An evolutionary biological justification based on sexual selection would also explain why attractiveness can be increased through cultural means such as make-up etc. Because a trait created by sexual selection is in conflict with other body shapes due to natural selection.

In competition among men, the attractiveness of a peacock's tail could be increased, for example, through further enlargement and even greater complexity. At some point, however, the weight of the feathers becomes so great that the resulting disadvantage outweighs the advantages of greater attractiveness, so that theoretically a beautiful tail would be possible, but it cannot develop. To the same extent, it may be possible to optically lengthen the legs using shoes with heels, because longer legs would be more beautiful, but would have other disadvantages, for example when running, etc.

See also


Popular scientific literature

Specialist publications

  • Manfred Hassebrauck , Reiner Niketta (Hrsg.): Physical attractiveness. Hogrefe, Göttingen et al. 1993, ISBN 3-8017-0600-1 (This anthology summarizes the results of German-language empirical-psychological attractiveness research, but there is no discussion of evolutionary psychological approaches. The volume was not noticed internationally).
  • Ronald Henss: face and personality impression (= teaching and research texts on psychology. NF vol. 7). Göttingen et al. Hogrefe, 1998, ISBN 3-8017-1146-3 (This personality psychology textbook revolves around the question: What role does the outside play in assessing the inside? First of all, it deals with the question of the structure of the personality impression, i.e. the Correlation between the individual personality traits that the appraiser thinks he recognizes in the appraised person. Then the question of whether the appraisers agree, and thirdly the question of the connection between physiognomy and personality impression.
  • Ronald Henss: "Mirror, mirror on the wall ..." Gender, age and physical attractiveness. Beltz Psychologie-Verlags-Union, Weinheim 1992, ISBN 3-621-27148-1 (Simultaneously: Saarbrücken, Universität, Dissertation, 1992; In the book, the psychologist who previously worked at Saarland University not only presents his own research, but also also gives a very systematic and clear overview of the worldwide literature on judgment consensus).
  • Andreas Hergovich (ed.): Psychology of beauty. Physical attractiveness from a scientific perspective. WUV-Universitäts-Verlag, Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-85114-705-7 (The individual articles in this anthology cover the most important fields of psychological research on attractiveness. The work differs from a "real" textbook in that the articles by students (at the Psychological Institute of the University of Vienna); their quality varies greatly).
  • Robert M. Kaplan: Is Beauty talent? Sex interaction in the attractiveness halo effect. In: Sex Roles. Bd. 4, Nr. 2, 1978, ISSN 0360-0025, S. 195–204, doi:10.1007/BF00287500.
  • David Landy, Harold Sigall: Beauty is talent: Task evaluation as a function of the performer's physical attractiveness. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Bd. 29, Nr. 3, 1974, ISSN 0022-3514, S. 299–304, doi:10.1037/h0036018.
  • Irena Martínková: Three Interpretations of Kalokagathia . In: Peter Mauritsch (Ed.): Body in the head. Ancient discourses on the body . Leykam, Graz 2010, ISBN 978-3-7011-0177-1 , pp. 17-28
  • Gillian Rhodes, Leslie A. Zebrowitz (Eds.): Facial attractiveness. Evolutionary, Cognitive, and Social Perspectives (= Advances in Visual Cognition. Vol. 1). Ablex Publishing, Westport CT et al. 2002, ISBN 1-56750-637-2 (The book can almost be described as a standard textbook on attractiveness research. It shows the entire spectrum of the subject, from evolutionary psychology (which was developed by the Viennese behavioral scientist Karl Grammer is represented) through the theory of perceptual preferences to socio-psychological approaches).
  • Manfred Schmitt: Beauty and Talent: Investigations into the Disappearance of the Halo Effect. In: Journal for Experimental and Applied Psychology. Vol. 39, No. 3, 1992, ISSN 0044-2712 , pp. 475-492.
  • Viruses Swami, Adrian Furnham: The Psychology of Physical Attraction. Routledge, London et al. 2008, ISBN 978-0-415-42250-5 (Generally understandable summary of selected topics of attractiveness research. The focus of the book is on the attractiveness of the figure, the face, on the other hand, is almost hidden. The authors make it particularly clear that the Importance of waist-to-hip ratio was overestimated).
  • Ingomar Weiler: The Kalokagathia ideal and the 'ugly' athlete's body . In: Peter Mauritsch (Ed.): Body in the head. Ancient discourses on the body . Leykam, Graz 2010, ISBN 978-3-7011-0177-1 , pp. 95-119
  • Leslie A. Zebrowitz: Reading Faces: Window to the Soul? Westview Press, Boulder CO et al. 1997, ISBN 0-8133-2746-6 (This “one-woman textbook” by the American perception researcher is about the signals that our face sends and how we receive and decode them. A special one The focus is on the working of the child schema and its explanation. The book is opulently illustrated for a specialist book and written so understandably that it is easy to read for laypeople).


  1. ^ Irena Martínková: Three Interpretations of Kalokagathia . In: Peter Mauritsch (Ed.): Body in the head. Ancient discourses on the body . Leykam, Graz 2010.
  2. Ingomar Weiler: The Kalokagathia ideal and the 'ugly' athlete's body . In: Peter Mauritsch (Ed.): Body in the head. Ancient discourses on the body . Leykam, Graz 2010.
  3. siehe z. B.: Ronald Henss: „Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand ...“ 1992; Johannes Hönekopp: Once more: Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Relative contributions of private and shared taste to judgments of facial attractiveness. In: Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance. Bd. 32, Nr. 2, 2006, ISSN 0096-1523, S. 199–209, doi:10.1037/0096-1523.32.2.199.
  4. Kristin Lynn Sainani: Q&A: Karl Grammer. In: Nature. Band 526, 2015, S. 11, doi:10.1038/526S11a.
  5. Ursula Richter: To love a younger man . Kreuz, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 978-3-7831-1010-4 .
  6. Christel Schachtner: Störfall Alter, S. Fischer Frankfurt a. M. 1988, ISBN 3-10-070202-6
  7. Ursula Lehr: Seniorinnen, Steinkopff, Darmstadt 1978, ISBN 978-3-7985-0519-3 .
  8. Ursula Lehr: On the situation of the aging woman. Inventory and perspectives up to the year 2000. Beck, Munich 1987. ISBN 3-406-32226-3 .
  9. GfK survey i. A. the "pharmacy review".
  10. Rita Bourauel: On the assessment of age- and gender-specific sexual attractiveness in old age, Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 1992, ISBN 3-86064-015-1
  11. Henss, Ronald: "Mirror, mirror on the wall ..." Gender, age and physical attractiveness. Munich, Beltz, 1992.
  12. Ursula Lehr & WF Schneider: Age picture. in: Wolf D. Oswald, Werner M. Herrmann, Siegfried Kanowski, Ursula M. Lehr and Hans Thomae: Gerontology, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1984, ISBN 3-17-008580-8 .
  13. Stress influences partner choice - spectrum of science
  14. Johanna Lass-Hennemann, Christian E. Deuter, Linn K. Kuehl, André Schulz, Terry D. Blumenthal, Hartmut Schachinger: Effects of stress on human mating preferences: stressed individuals prefer dissimilar mates. In: Proceedings of the Royal Society. Series B: Biological Sciences. Bd. 277, No. 1691, 2010, ISSN 0962-8452, S. 2175–2183, doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0258.
  15. "Attractiveness angular chin, big eyes"
  17. ^ Haiko Prengel: Partnership: From the luck and misfortune of the career couples. In: Zeit Online. September 9, 2017, accessed May 10, 2015 .
  18. Judith H. Langlois, Lisa Kalakanis, Adam J. Rubenstein, Andrea Larson, Monica; Hallam, Monica Smoot: Maxims or Myths of Beauty? A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review. In: Psychological Bulletin. Bd. 126, Nr. 3, 2000, ISSN 0033-2909, S. 390–423, doi:10.1037/0033-2909.126.3.390, online (PDF; 2,6 MB).


  • Neuroesthetics - With his "Institute of Neuroesthetics", the grand master of neurobiology, Semir Zeki, pursues his hobby: the explanation of art from biology.


  • Face Assessment Experiments - online face assessment and attractiveness research experiments. Department of Psychology, Saarland University, Saarbrücken.
  • PSYTESTS (German) - On this page of the Institute for Psychology at the Humboldt University in Berlin there is a study on individual preferences in the perception of male faces.
  • (German) - On this website, run by researchers from the University of Aberdeen, you can take part in short psychological experiments that focus on the perception of attractiveness of faces and voices. The site is also available in a German version.
  • Body generator and body contest - two experiments by the Regensburg psychologist Martin Gründl
  • A Little Lab (Engl.) - On this page by Tony Little you will find a large number of experiments, which mainly deal with the assessment of attractiveness and the personality impression of faces.
  • Perception Lab - On this website of David Perrett's research group you can find various online experiments on the attractiveness of faces. Here you can also leave your face to science.
  • Symmetry - Here you can have your face symmetrized online and have deviations from perfect symmetry calculated in a single numerical value.