On the assumptions behind beauty; Why we seem to be drawn towards beautiful people

In Beth’s recent post, Beth had talked about some of the ways life did or did not fit in with some of the assumptions about beauty. In one part, she talked a little about OK Cupid and how some of these stereotypes seem to thrive more online. I’m going to build off that a bit.

Reading the OK Cupid study, which I suggest you do, there was a story about a ‘blind date’ app they ran, that cut pictures off. Conversations thrived, then pics were restored and conversations died. They concluded it was because of the pictures, and realizing the person whom you are talking to is not that attractive.

But they found that the ones whom actually got to a date, ‘they had a good time more or less’, regardless of how attractive the partner was. Not sure how they quantify good times, but this whole thing reminds me of something…

Beauty as indicator of health.

Studies have shown that we may be predetermined to look for signs of good health in the faces of those whom we consider as mate.

And one of the characteristics is facial symmetry. Another is that we tend to favor faces that are more of the median of the population, ‘normal’. Both of these can generally indicate that no massive genetic mutation has occured. And this preference in us appears to be a hardwired response.

So why did the folks on dates in the OK Cupid survey do well?

I think it’s because, as human beings, we make decisions on mates from a VARIETY of factors. Let’s say, in no general order, beauty, personality, status, aspirations; all of these factors come in to play. But the biggest in my experience, seems to be personality.

However, online, many of these characteristics can be hard to show. Though a person may try, personality is VERY hard to show across the internet. And temperament, even more so. So we drop to the things we can observe, and the easiest is beauty. We are so hardwired to this, that in many cases, we probably can’t telly you why out of two almost identical faces, we will pick one to be more beautiful. It seems we notice symmetry pretty strongly.

Thinking about the way a person looks, I’m reminded of audio specifications. When you buy a stereo or a pair of speakers, they are usually accompanied by a sheet of specifications, such as the frequency response, total distortion, etc. But while this information is probably accurate, the reality is, the spec sheet from the worst pair of speakers you have ever heard is not much different than the best pair of speakers. This is the same with most technology; TVs, computers, etc. And it’s because scientists cannot come up with a measurement for sound quality. Why? Well, one, because ‘timbre’, the audiophile word for part of this sonic quality, can’t really be measured. And two, and part of the reason it’s difficult to measure ‘timbre’; as our ears are all different, we hear the same sounds others hear, differently. So even description to another may not correlate.

So even with the beauty thing, all it tells us is this person was probably born with good genes. It doesn’t tell you if they are a an asshole, if they eat junk food all day, or if they are the sweetest person in the world. It doesn’t tell you if they share the same life goals as you, or are compatible with your personality.

Sadly though, like folks shopping for speakers on the internet by looking at specification sheets, we are looking at a similar specification sheet, exterior looks, when perusing for a mate online.

I think the key to navigating such areas as this, and being satisfied with time put in, is this: Remember that the things that make a person worth your time is the feeling you get from them. And that cannot be shown so easily in a picture.

When you think about it, a lot of online profiles are about showing how much a good thing we have, be it our face, our vacation, our new car, our kids. But the photograph cannot show the audience if, when we were on that beautiful beach, or buying that new car, if we were emotionally hollow inside, or if we were stressed out, or spiteful, or sick. All it can tell us, ‘this person was here’.

And that brings up the thing I’d like to close with: A lot of what we read into things like beauty, are our own interpretations and narratives we place onto them. We see the picture of the beach, and say ‘I would like that’, thinking about how we would interact with it, and sometimes ideally. And when we see the picture of someone beautiful, we ascribe our own idea of their personality onto them. And I think this tendency of humans, to make idealistic narratives for things based off observable qualities, is the completing part of the factor of why we respond to beauty online this way.

Side note: This tendency to put a personal, assumed narrative onto the things we have low information about, is also a tendency that helps to keep people in depression, as the depressed narrative tends to keep a person from exploring opportunities, as they feel they already know the full extent of this observed possibility, and it is depressing to them.

So our inclination towards beautiful people is in, perhaps, two parts: 1) we believe they are healthy, 2) we imagine them the way we want them to be. And the truth is, neither of those are factual indications, though they may be some of the time. It’s a good thing to keep in mind.

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