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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

The Measure of A Woman?

Subjects were shown faces with the same features but with different distances between the eyes and between the eyes and mouth. Faces with an average length or width ratio—which were chosen as most attractive—are framed in black. (Photo courtesy of Pamela Pallett.)

Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder but also in the relationship of the eyes and mouth of the beholden. The distance between a woman’s eyes and the distance between her eyes and her mouth are key factors in determining how attractive she is to others, ­according to psychologists from UC San Diego and the University of Toronto.

The researchers—including Pamela Pallett and Stephen Link of the UCSD psychology department—tested the existence of an ideal facial feature arrangement. In four separate experiments, they asked university students to make paired comparisons of attractiveness between female faces with identical facial features but different eye-mouth distances and different distances between the eyes.

They discovered two ideal measures, one for length and one for width. Female faces were judged more attractive when the vertical distance between their eyes and the mouth was approximately 36 percent of the face’s length, and the horizontal distance between their eyes was approximately 46 percent of the face’s width.

The researchers suggest that the perception of facial attractiveness is a result of a cognitive averaging process by which people take in all the faces they see and average them to get an ideal. They also posit that “averageness” (like symmetry) is a proxy for health, and that we may be predisposed by biology and evolution to find average faces attractive.

The authors note that only Caucasian female faces were studied. Further studies are needed to know whether there is a different set of ideal ratios for male faces and for faces from other races or for children’s faces.

Meanwhile, the study explains why a new hairdo can dramatically change your looks—for better or for worse: A hairdo changes the perceived proportions.

—Inga Kiderra