What Attracts Us to Beautiful Faces? Is it Natural?
By Michael Cole
Humans are fascinated by faces as portrait paintings and photographs throughout history can testify. The science behind what attracts our eyes to look at faces, historic or otherwise, hasn’t been examined until recently. A new study reveals that certain brain centers actually reward us with pleasurable brain responses when we look upon a beautiful face.
Much information is stored in the face that can be decoded by the eye -- literally, in a matter of seconds: is this person someone I know, are they a man or woman, are they in a good mood or bad, are they attractive? All these can be instantly assessed by a quick look at a face.
An Inherent Thing
Research that explored how our visual systems scan faces for the most important information developed some interesting answers. The results suggest that we’ve been evolutionarily designed to become expert face readers. The human curiosity about faces and what the features tell us about the person are hardwired into how we perceive reality.
In fact, neurological centers located deep within our brain that scientists refer to as the brain reward system was found to be involved in how we evaluate the attractiveness of a face we look at. The brain reward system is instrumental in providing the biochemistry that allows us to feel pleasure when we experience something like an amazingly delicious meal or a positive life event like winning a bet with a friend. Researchers were surprised, however, when they discovered that this same system is engaged when we lay our eyes upon a beautiful looking face.
We Like Beauty
In the past, research into how people evaluate faces has shown that there is surprisingly universal criterion for what constitutes a beautiful face that many agree on. The new study was designed so that participants viewed images of faces that had already been classified into three groups: most attractive, moderately attractive, and less attractive. While viewing these different types of faces the study participants were given a drug that stimulated the reward systems in their brains.
Results showed that the participants rated the most attractive faces as super attractive and continually pressed a button that held the image of the face on their viewing screen longer. Also, they looked into the eyes for the majority of the time spent viewing the faces.
However, when a drug that blocked the reward system in the brain was given participants, they rated the attractive faces with low scores. This data led researchers to conclude that our brains are wired by evolution to seek out beautiful faces to look at.
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