Can experience alter one's preferences for beauty?

Can experience alter one's preferences for beauty?

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My friend (a woman) is convinced that all men who find those posters of "women scantily clad in their bathing suits or thongs and big breasts (often fake)" attractive are simply brainwashed by society.

I told her I disagreed. I told her that her experiences with a previous boyfriend (who was ugly, chubby, but she loved him dearly) had radically changed her views, such that she was the outlier, not "everyone else". What the average male thinks of those posters is the default genetic predisposition that males have towards women -- we tend to look for big breasts for breastfeeding our children, good WHR, typically healthy-weight (toned,not excessively fat but not crazy skinny either) as an indicator of overall health, etc.

Is there any literature on:

  • Whether experience can alter one's perception of attractiveness (i.e. over time x women you find hot will no longer be attractive to you). Note, I certainly think this is true, but I never learned about it specifically in psychology so if anyone know's more that'd be awesome
    • If experience can alter this perception, to what extent?
  • Whether the average person is "brainwashed" into thinking that the not-entirely-natural (makeup, breast implants, etc) women on TV are attractive.

There are many reasons why men may find 'not-entirely-natural' women more attractive.

One reason, perhaps obvious, is simply based on evolutionary preferences. A rosy complexion may indicate good health, whereas larger breasts may signify fertility. Whether fake or not, women use makeup and surgery to accentuate features that men already find attractive. Though it is true that some women may accentuate features to the point of unrealism, it is worth noting that aesthetic reactions are established prior to one's cognitive appraisal for attractiveness [citation needed]. The mechanism in our brain that judges instantaneous beauty is likely not privy to information such as 'that woman in front of me has fake breasts'.

That being said, I think a better answer to your question relies on the notion of fluency--the metacognitive experience of difficulty associated with any cognitive act. Familiarity fosters high fluency, because our mind processes familiar things more quickly or easily than novel things. Several studies have shown that familiarity or fluency leads to an increased rating on any number of positively valence dimensions, including likability and attractiveness. [1][2] (As a side note, it's also interesting that the reverse is also true-- attractive faces are judged a more familiar [3]).

The media certainly plays a large part in increasing this familiarity through what we see on TV and in magazines. Different cultures develop different cultural norms for attractiveness as a result of their exposure. The same effect is frequently observed in people who are attracted to others of the same race. This preference is shown even in young infants, as a result of increased exposure to faces of their own race. [4]

Lastly, the 'message' conveyed by media likely influences our perception of beauty as well. Ads tell us that we have to constantly use the right shampoo, or diet supplement, or facial cleanser-- pressuring us to believe we won't be beautiful if we don't use these products. The message is not cryptic-- products often reference the 'healthy' or 'attractive' effects of their use. Perhaps someone better versed in the literature on belief formation or persuasion could add some useful citation here as well, this it not my area of expertise. (I often refer people to Cialdini's Influence: Science and Practice for an overview of the literature related to persuasion, which may be worth checking out if no one can provide more targeted references).

[1] Peskin, M. & Newell, F. N. (2004). Familiarity breeds attraction: Effects of exposure on the attractiveness of typical and distinctive faces. Perception, 33, 147-157.

[2] Reber, R., Schwarz, N., & Winkielman, P. (2004). Processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure: Is beauty in the perceiver's processing experience? Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 364-382.

[3] Monin, B. (2003). The warm glow heuristic: When liking leads to familiarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 1035-1048.

[4] Kelly, D.J. et al. (2005). Three-month-old, but not newborns, prefer own-race faces. Dev Sci, 8, F31-F36.

At one time Mauritanians considered fat women more attractive than thin. Unless Mauritanian men were born different to other men, surely we have to suppose that Mauritanian men were trained that way.


  • BBC News: Mauritania's 'wife-fattening' farm , and
  • Wikipedia: Body mass in attractivness

We should differentiate between the behavior aspects of attraction and the physical aspects. Behavior involves what bathing suit someone chooses to wear, what makeup they wear, how they carry their body, etc.

Regarding the behavior aspect of attraction: Judith Butler argues that it is a culturally-constructed performance. Behavior varies by culture.

For example, the European conception of masculinity is often thought to be different from the American conception of masculinity. (more "metrosexual")

Another example: Lesbians are more attracted to women who look like a typical butch lesbian. Why is this? Is there an evo-psych aspect to being attracted to short spiky or asymmetrical hair, thumb rings, and other things that make someone show up on other people's lezdar? Possibly, but more likely it's a cultural signifier, a shibboleth, so that members of the same group can identify each other.

Heterosexual Romantic Couples Mate Assortatively for Facial Symmetry, But Not Masculinity (Burriss et al, 2011) "the authors found assortment for facial symmetry but not for sex typicality or independently rated attractiveness." As the study concludes, "humans may mate assortatively on facial symmetry, but this remains just one of the many physical and nonphysical traits to which people likely attend when forming romantic partnerships. "

Companies Must Understand The Psychology Of Change To Weather Tomorrow's Disruptive Forces

As it turns out, the companies that are most successful in terms of managing change have a few things in common:

• They treat their people as an asset rather than an expense . In days past, people were treated as costs. But agile companies understand that their people are what give them the ability to adapt to disruptive market forces and continually offer training and opportunities for development.

• They’ve moved toward flat-structured management . These companies have fundamentally changed how they approach policies for communication, authority and responsibility , shifting from more of a hierarchical model to one with fewer levels of middle management . Google, for example, has one supervisor for every 50 people.

• They are diverse and mission-driven . Traditionally, people have been siloed in departments. But companies that remain agile in the face of change are highly cross-functional, with employees coming together on teams for projects with specific purposes then moving on to other teams when the project is completed or as priorities change.

• They embody transformational leadership . In the past, leadership tended to be transactional. It focused on achieving compliance with company objectives through rewards and punishment — the "quid pro quo" approach. Successful companies, however, are replacing this rather short-sighted leadership style with a transformational approach that inspires employees by creating a vision and mission.

As a case in point, ANZ Banking Group has restructured into teams of 10, called “tribes" and replaced the typical "manager" function with coaches. The move is inspired by Spotify, one of the pioneers in agile software development , an iterative approach where solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams. Instead of trying to hire good "bean counters," they’re hiring people with the ability to adapt and work collaboratively. This stands in stark contrast to the “waterfall” approach where teams are given a fairly rigid set of objectives and work to accomplish them, come hell or high water.

We’re Getting A Lot Right, But Something Is Missing

Companies, in general, are doing lots of things right, and we’ve seen across-the-board improvements in the ability to:

• Identify roles and responsibilities

• Manage knowledge and capabilities

• Introduce changes to structure, systems and technologies

• Account for the external environment more effectively

• Identify specific missions and goals

However, it’s somewhat surprising (and a little sad) that so many organizational change initiatives fail or don’t result in sustained change. Why is this the case? Despite these advances, companies still don’t know a lot about organizational culture . True, everyone knows that it exists and that it’s certainly important. But understanding how to define and adjust organizational culture is another matter.

Additionally, studies indicate that companies are just beginning to understand employee engagement or the level of an employee's commitment and connection to their work and to their organization. How can companies address what seems at the outset to be fairly nebulous concepts?

Gaining A Measure Of Control Over Change

Much of what drives change in business is outside of our control, but if companies begin with a concerted effort to better understand the people that make up their companies — their best asset for change — they can much more readily adjust to disruptive forces in the marketplace.

One way to approach these is to layer assessments onto a change process, starting with understanding preferences, then moving into interpersonal needs, followed by personality and interests, then emotional cognitive intelligence and finally completing the loop with 360 feedback. This can provide a solid understanding that sheds light on culture and engagement, pinpointing areas that need to be or can be adjusted to optimize for change.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, people don’t dislike change if we did, it’s unlikely that we would have arrived at where we are today. But the better we understand ourselves, the better we are able to cope with both welcome and unwelcome change. Companies, it turns out, are no different.

While You Are Ringing In The Summer, Don't Forget To Remember The Importance Of What We Have Off For.

Home of the free because of the brave.

"The American flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies from the last breath of each solider who died protecting it."

On this present day in America, we currently have over 1.4 million brave men and women actively listed in the armed forces to protect and serve our country.

Currently there is an increased rate of 2.4 million retiree's from the US military

Approximately, there has been over 3.4 million deaths of soldiers fighting in wars.

Every single year, everyone look's forward to Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where beaches become overcrowded, people fire up them grills for a fun sunny BBQ, simply an increase of summer activities, as a "pre-game" before summer begins.

Many American's have forgot the true definition of why we have the privilege to celebrate Memorial Day.

In simple terms, Memorial Day is a day to pause, remember, reflect and honor the fallen who died protecting and serving for everything we are free to do today.

Thank you for stepping forward, when most would have stepped backwards.

Thank you for the times you missed with your families, in order to protect mine.

Thank you for involving yourself, knowing that you had to rely on faith and the prayers of others for your own protection.

Thank you for being so selfless, and putting your life on the line to protect others, even though you didn't know them at all.

Thank you for toughing it out, and being a volunteer to represent us.

Thank you for your dedication and diligence.

Without you, we wouldn't have the freedom we are granted now.

I pray you never get handed that folded flag. The flag is folded to represent the original thirteen colonies of the United States. Each fold carries its own meaning. According to the description, some folds symbolize freedom, life, or pay tribute to mothers, fathers, and children of those who serve in the Armed Forces.

As long as you live, continuously pray for those families who get handed that flag as someone just lost a mother, husband, daughter, son, father, wife, or a friend. Every person means something to someone.

Most Americans have never fought in a war. They've never laced up their boots and went into combat. They didn't have to worry about surviving until the next day as gunfire went off around them. Most Americans don't know what that experience is like.

However, some Americans do as they fight for our country every day. We need to thank and remember these Americans because they fight for our country while the rest of us stay safe back home and away from the war zone.

Never take for granted that you are here because someone fought for you to be here and never forget the people who died because they gave that right to you.

So, as you are out celebrating this weekend, drink to those who aren't with us today and don't forget the true definition of why we celebrate Memorial Day every year.

"…And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice."

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by The Scientific and Ethical Review Board (VCWE) of the Faculty of Behavior and Movement Sciences, VU University Amsterdam. Written informed consent for participation was not required for this study in accordance with the national legislation and the institutional requirements.

AJ performed conceptualization, formal analysis, writing original draft, and review and editing. OW performed conceptualization, methodology, and investigation. RdV performed writing review and editing and supervision. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

How The Beauty Industry Is Adapting To Change

“Brands are created at the speed of light. The beauty industry is becoming increasingly complex.

I recently attended the WWD Beauty Summit, probably the most important conference in the beauty industry since the most senior executives and interesting startups are there. The focus of the event was how much the industry is changing and almost all the discussion and presentations were about the changes affecting the industry.

The Signs of Change

Almost none of the industry leaders and upcoming independents ignored the indications of the change in the market.

Camillo Pane, the CEO of Coty, talked about speed. “Brands are created at the speed of light,” he said. “The beauty industry is becoming increasingly complex. Our instinct is to dislike complexity. But we either embrace it, or we’re not going to be around.”

Marc Rey, the President & CEO of Shiseido Americas, pointed out that traditional makeup was down 1.3% in 2016. But independent brands were up 42.7%. His implication was that the growth of independent brands was a reflection of a change in consumer tastes that everyone in the business has to respond to. The question is how.

Kat Von D with Jenny Fine of Beauty Inc.

Kat Von D of the eponymous beauty company talked about how the barriers to entry have been lowered, creating a competitive threat to the established players. “It’s like music, everyone can do it now so in order to succeed you actually have to be f**king good.” She also talked about how customers have changed. Referring to the growth of the cruelty-free market she said, “millennials really do care.”

Mike George, the president and CEO of QVC, recognized the threats coming from sources that are much bigger than the beauty industry itself. He said there is a “collapse of institutional and brand authority.” He believes there are four reasons for the changes:

  • Erosion of trust in society
  • Race to the bottom (he’s referring to everyone trying to compete by selling at the lowest price)
  • Craving for authenticity
  • Shifting sources of influence.

He was very down on e-commerce. He said, “E-commerce creates a race to the bottom where price is the primary attribute and retailers devalue the role of brands. In beauty we’ve resisted that but it’s hampered so many categories.” I disagree with him on that one. While there is certainly lots of price competition for comparable products in e-commerce, whether it’s online or in traditional stores, my observation is that consumers want unique products and experiences and they will pay for them when they’re what the consumer wants. It makes me wonder whether QVC is feeling squeezed by e-commerce and the possibility that video on demand over the web will threaten their franchise.

He also talked about changing boundaries in the beauty business, referring to several phenomena:

    (inexpensive but marketed as luxury)
  • The desire of consumers to have beauty products along with health and wellness products all together in one
  • Creating spa experiences at home.

All those phenomena involve an overlap in categories that used to be discrete.

He lamented the way technology is impinging on the way consumers want to live. “With all technology, we see consumers craving to bring humanity back to an increasingly impersonal world and increasingly impersonal shopping experience. We need to find ways to simplify the overwhelming complexity of the world we live in.”

Photo credit: Patrick MacLeod, WWD

Jo Malone, the founder of the beauty brand of the same name who has now founded another brand called Jo Loves said, “I speak to teenagers and I ask them, “What do entrepreneurs mean to you?” She said the teens tell her three things:

  • “They set goals and walk towards them and fulfill them with warrior-like tactics"
  • "They’re people who change the language of the world and cause people to want to drop everything and follow them."
  • "They question and challenge everyone and everything but they deliver world-changing products and concepts and they add a lot to our lives.”

Malone summarizes these three answers into three words: passion, resilience and creativity. She also believes that we have to “change the way we create fragrance.” She thinks about fragrance all the time. During a presentation by Vicky Tsai of the brand Tatcha regarding modern day geishas’ beauty habits, Malone asked her, “what do Geishas smell like?” (Tsai told her, “They smell like babies.”)

Malone believes that millennials (which she used to believe was “something you planted in your garden”) aren’t just looking at their phones when you see them zombie-like in public places. “They create a community and their own language and their own world and communicate and consume in a different way.” Referring to consumers’ ability to do your marketing for you by communicating with each other on social media, she said, “They take it all up and spread the word for you. You think they’re not taking it in but they are. They don’t want to be just your consumer, or be entertained by you, they want to create with you, they want to touch the heartbeat and be part of the creative process… they want to be part of it.”

Fabrizio Freda, the President & CEO of Estee Lauder, noted that the last time he spoke the conference was in 2010 when there was no Instagram and now there are 700 million Instagram users. “We are shifting channels and preferences that are profoundly changing the industry. We aren’t simply moving from point A to point B, change is flowing like the current of the ocean.” He noted that many of these changes are enormous opportunities. In the U.S., “women are spending more [on beauty products], 13% more on foundation, 18% more on concealer, 35% of women use more than five makeup products every day and 80% use three skin care products every day..and six mascaras are sold per minute in the U.S. Younger generations are defining the culture with images of self-expression. They take more pictures in a day on average than their parents took in a year. Sixty-five percent of teens rely on social media to discover and select beauty products. By lowering the barrier to entry, we are encouraging an entrepreneurial fire.” He added that the average home has 1.2 detergent brands and 12 beauty brands. “Volatility and the pace of change are not diminishing. What we’re living through is not a moment in time, it’s the new reality.” Freda believes that the changes require stability. He said, “The art of leading through change is understanding what has not changed and how to leverage our historical strengths.”

Amy Regan of Skinfix, a young, new company with a suite of products that, like the name says, repair skin, talked about product itself as a sign of change. She said, “Seventy-three percent of millennials say they want natural skin care products. We think this category will get more awareness as CVS gets out of synthetic [skin care ingredients]… When you deal with a skin condition, there’s a heart connection that’s special and powerful.”

Regan believes that good skin will become more important in culture. “The incidence of eczema has tripled since the 1970’s. Seventy-percent of questions that pharmacists are asked relate to skin care. Skin care is about beauty meeting wellness. That’s the future of this industry. Consumers want things they feel good about putting on themselves and their children. When a customer has a need for their parent or child does, it affects your quality of life when it’s itchy and painful. When a consumer finds something that works for them, we get five-star reviews and we’re top-rated on QVC.”

Alan Ennis, President & CEO of Glansaol is a different kind of business model entirely. Glansaol is what the private equity world calls a “rollup.” Their business model uses investors’ money to buy up a range of smaller, independent companies so they have a “platform” of brands serving a spectrum of customers. The goal is to grow all the businesses and either sell to a bigger company in the industry or take it public. Today, Glansaol owns Laura Geller, Julep and Clark’s Botanicals.

Glansaol is all about product. Ennis, who was previously CEO of Revlon at age 39, says, “The path to a successful company used to be predictable. If a brand was in a department store, it had demonstrators. The big brands were leading the charge and they defined what consumers would be using. Celebrities defined what would happen and that was intentional because consumers wanted and aspired to be a celebrity. We used traditional media. But today it’s an evolving recipe. The pace of change is so fast that what’s true today probably won’t be true tomorrow. The brick-and-mortar places have become Sephora and Ulta and not department stores. The bigger brands are in slight decline and the independent brands are growing. Authenticity has taken over from celebrities because consumers don’t believe celebrities. They want something from a friend, colleague or a family member and not from a billboard. And social media has taken over from traditional media. My sense as to where we’ll be tomorrow is that we’re not in an evolution, it’s a revolution and how do we leapfrog ahead of our competitors so I can intercept the consumer where she makes her purchase.”

Then he talked about his own evolution saying, “When I left Revlon I asked myself what will I do to make a difference? I could have joined another large beauty company and I had a choice to be a divisional GM or CEO or to do something different. I chose the path less traveled. I didn’t want to write another chapter in someone else’s book I wanted to write a new book.” Ennis’ organization is unique in having a combination of entrepreneurial businesses under one roof without a legacy brand. It will be interesting to see if he can make it work.

One of the clearest signs of change in the industry, especially on the technology side, was the presentation by Parham Aarabi, Founder & CEO of Modiface. Modiface is an app that lets you see yourself in different lighting conditions, with different makeup and different hair colors. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a quick YouTube on it below. Just keep in mind when you watch it – you’re conditioned to think that the change in background lighting is happening in the room but it isn’t, everything that changes in the video other than the movement of the model’s head is changing only in the app. Right now, 75 of the top 100 beauty brands are using Modiface.

Karin Tracy, Head of Industry, Beauty/Fashion/Luxury/Retail at Facebook, was there to convince people to market on Facebook’s properties and she made a very compelling case. She didn’t say this but her most compelling case was herself. She was previously the publisher of InStyle magazine and she left there to go to Facebook. When a person in a position like she had at InStyle moves to a social media company it tells you something important is happening. But she was more specific than that. About change in the industry, she pointed out that Facebook has 1.9 billion users, Whatsapp has 1.2 billion, Instagram has 700 million and Facebook messenger has 1.2 billion. All those companies are owned by Facebook and 20% of the time spent on the internet is with one of those brands. On those combined platforms there are 60 million businesses and every day there are 526 million posts that relate to the beauty industry.

“Imagine,” she said, “that the phone has become one joined real world where offline and online are merging together…we have technology linking Facebook to how we’re driving sales offline…we see people’s preferences whether they’re online or offline shoppers. We have the ability to serve personal and relevant messages that are appropriate for the channel they want. The consumer is the channel… You tell your story here and take this idea of aisle or the palm of your beauty consumer’s hand.”

All of the companies who presented, and all the people I spoke to at the conference, recognized the enormous changes that are occurring in the industry. They all recognized the changes are being driven both by consumers’ tastes and habits changing as well as by technology. But no two people expressed it the same way. Everyone had a different observation about what the changes are. That implies very different responses which is exactly what they presented.

Why Women Like Beauty Products

You may think the question of women liking beauty products is silly, they like beauty products because it makes them look better. Well yes, but on a deeper level, an emotional level, the people in the beauty industry had a number of opinions.

Camillo Pane, the CEO of Coty said, “beauty is being beautiful the way you are.” That may sound circular but it isn’t. What he’s talking about is having women accept the way they look in a satisfied way rather than only seeing their physical shortcomings as so many women are taught to do. He’s also addressing the way sellers of products have historically approached women to motivate them as customers, getting them to focus on the things they don’t like about the way they look. It’s a whole change of mindset. “I believe in the power of self-expression for makeup,” he said. “Thirty percent of consumers see the beauty industry helping their self-confidence.” What he’s really saying is 70% of women don’t, and that needs to change.

Marc Rey of Shiseido explained it as, “Millennial women are confident, caring, connected and open to change.” That’s very kind of him to say but I question whether he’s right about that. He also said, “the level of consumer intimacy is insane [in the beauty business]” and he’s dead right about that. That intimacy, that connection to women’s self-perception is a key defining characteristic of why women like beauty products.

Kat Von D identified with her customer as people just like her. “I’m just a makeup fan. Makeup makes us feel a certain way. These are the products of my heart.” She started her beauty line because she said to herself, “how amazing would it be if you could create stuff just because. I create stuff because I say ‘how cool would that be.’ It’s not based on vanity, it’s based on self-expression. I like myself best without makeup but I love wearing makeup. There’s no formula to it, I think I just am.” She is a paradox. She has an authentic appeal, way beyond anything an advertisement can convey. That makes her less commercial which makes her commerce so successful. I spent an hour with her talking and you can feel how much she loves what she does and you walk away believing that if she didn’t love it she wouldn’t do it.

Tarang Amin, the CEO of e.l.f. Beauty, talked about consumers who love their products not because it brings them closer to feeling beautiful. “I love the passion and engagement of our consumers…[but] the unattainable aspect of beauty can be intimidating. Our approach is the opposite. We want to be as inclusive as possible and we want to make our company like our consumers.”

In the second part of this series, I discuss what these companies and some others are doing to deal with all the changes in the industry.

Big Ideas Articles & More

When I was 16 years old, I was a pretty outgoing teen with lots of friends and a busy social calendar. I took my academics seriously and was diligent about doing homework. But I also tended to worry a lot and could cry at the drop of a hat.

Now here I am more than 50 years later, and, in many ways, I seem much the same: extraverted and conscientious, but a bit neurotic. Does that mean that my personality hasn’t changed over the last half-century?

Not necessarily. Many of us tend to think of personality as being fixed and unchangeable—the part of you that is inherently who you are. But according to a recent study, while our early personalities may provide a baseline, they are surprisingly malleable as we age.

In this study, researchers had access to unusual survey data. American adolescents had filled out questionnaires about their personalities in the 1960s and then had done so again fifty years later, reporting on personal qualities associated with the “Big Five” personality traits:

  • Extraversion: How outgoing, social, cheerful, or full of energy and enthusiasm you are in social settings.
  • Agreeableness: How warm, friendly, helpful, generous, and tactful you are.
  • Emotional stability (or its opposite, neuroticism): How calm, content, and unflappable—versus anxious, angry, jealous, lonely, or insecure—you are.
  • Conscientiousness: How organized, efficient, and committed you are to finishing projects or reaching your goals.
  • Openness to experience: How curious, adventuresome, and receptive you are to new ideas, emotions, and experiences.

Some of the findings were quite provocative. Most notably, people’s personality traits did not always stay the same over the five decades, with many people showing quite dramatic changes.

“Some of the changes we saw in personality traits over the 50 years were very, very large,” says the lead author of the study, Rodica Damian of the University of Houston. “For emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, the changes were one[s] which would be clearly visible to others.”

On the other hand, that didn’t mean that people didn’t stay true to their personality traits over time at all. Coauthor Brent Roberts of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that much of our personality does seem to stay the same—just not as much as we might expect. For example, an extraverted teenager like me would have a 63 percent chance of still identifying as an extravert in their 60s, he says.

Why does this matter? Thinking of personality as fixed could lead us to feel like we can never grow, or to dismiss people with certain qualities we don’t like, concerned that change isn’t possible when that’s not the case.

Still, we don’t simply change our personalities in random ways, explain the researchers. What seems to be more consistent over time is the relationship among all of our personality traits. This means that if someone tended to be really conscientious but a bit disagreeable or neurotic early on, they might keep that relative personality profile as they aged, even if some of their traits shifted a bit.

Additionally, the researchers found that adolescents as a group tended to move in a positive direction for particular traits—like emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness—after 50 years, suggesting a growth in social maturity.

“These attributes of social maturity are good things to acquire, if you want to get along with your spouse and coworkers and stay healthy,” Roberts says.

This finding fits well with some of Roberts’s prior research showing that people experience smaller, incremental personality changes over shorter periods of time. And it helps confirms his theory that personality change is cumulative over our lifespan, likely happens in response to our life experiences, and often leans in a positive, helpful direction.

So, apparently, our personalities are a mix of stable and unstable. Roberts advises parents and teachers to keep that in mind when they try to influence their children to be more responsible or mature. Change, when it happens, occurs gradually rather than all at once, he says, which means we need patience with kids who are growing into themselves.

More on Personality

“If you go into the enterprise of shaping your child’s personality, be humble in your approach…and much more forgiving,” he says.

Even the elderly, whom we might expect to be more rigid and set in their ways, can change. Therapists who work with older clients with neurotic tendencies or troubled relationships should not feel discouraged or give up, says Damian, given what research shows is possible.

Damian also argues that this research could inform people in long-term relationships. Rather than expecting someone to be the same person they were decades ago, partners would be better served by learning to value what remains constant in someone’s personality while simultaneously embracing personality shifts as they occur.

“If you married someone because they’re a fine person, they’re probably still going to be a fine person later on so that’s reassuring,” she says. “But at the same time, it’s important to keep an eye on them to see how they’re changing, so you don’t get blindsided by the changes and grow apart.”

So, am I changing myself? I hope so—at least on some level. I like the idea of letting go of some of my neuroticism, while becoming more agreeable and conscientious as I enter my older years.

Fringe Benefits of Appreciating Beauty and Excellence

Sherri Fisher, MAPP '06, M.Ed., Director of Learn & Flourish LLC, is a leader in the field of positive education. An education management consultant and coach, workshop facilitator and author, Sherri uses the POS-EDGE Model to incorporate research-based findings from strengths psychology and behavioral economics into positive, personalized, best-practice strategies for learning, parenting, and work. Full Bio. Sherri's articles are here.

None of the other walkers, runners or bike riders greets me with, “Gorgeous day, isn’t it?” Even the usually perky Puggle dog on my block sits quietly on his front steps among the first colored leaves that have fallen from a hundred year-old maple tree. Its ancient roots push up through the stone fence at the edge of the property. Just the same, I feel pleasantly filled up by the beautiful things I see, hear, smell, and feel around me.

It may be possible to take this same walk every day and not experience anything new and uplifting. But because I have the strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, I cannot help but notice everything from the bees buzzing in to find their place in the huge flowers of the butterfly bush to the smell of fall on the breeze to the easiness of the stride of the runner who has just passed me. In the now overgrown front garden of the next house along my walk is a tall stalk with several green milkweed pods not yet ready to pop open. Food for next year’s gorgeous Monarch butterflies, I imagine.

Continuing along my usual route I come to the bank parking lot where the damp wind is blowing the scent of “eau de dumpster” my way. I pick my pace up to a jog. Another quarter of a mile down the road an antique house has the windows boarded up. A developer has uprooted all of the trees and scraped off the grass and topsoil from the property. Not long ago two families lived here with their small children and dogs. I watched them water the potted plants on stone front steps that are now missing.

As with all strengths, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence feels natural and right to the person who has it. I know that I have this strength because things that are not either beautiful or excellent (admittedly to me) push this strengths button. I remember to say to myself, “I’m having a B and E moment” when I start to feel the “ick” of disgust (the opposite of elevation) rising within me. I even have a friend who shares the strength with me, and we regularly text each other with pictures or commentary about our moments.

Sources of Awe and Wonder

As a strength, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is more than just our preferences in dumpster location or local property development. According to Peterson and Seligman’s Character Strengths and Virtues, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is “the human tendency to feel powerful self-transcendent emotions.” Awe, wonder, and elevation are elicited by the perception and contemplation of beauty and excellence.

An additional way to consider Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is to think of the pleasurable openness and awe we feel when enjoying the highly developed skills and virtues of others. This awe may be experienced in the incredible “Wow!” of watching a basketball free-throw shot go through the net without even touching the rim or the seemingly impossible leap of the soccer goalkeeper making a save.

It could be the almost dumbstruck quality we feel after watching a film that has elicited so much emotion that we have nothing to say about it at first.

It could be the wonder we feel when reading an author’s clarity of thought presented in a few artfully chosen words.

It could be the deep admiration we feel when hearing someone thank the firefighter who rescued people and pets from a brightly burning building.

Unlike a more cognitive strength like curiosity, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence has a strong set of emotions connected to it. You know that you have this strength because you feel it strongly, not just because you think, “Isn’t that lovely? I wonder who created it?” It is more than astonishment.

Researchers including Ekman and Keltner have identified certain bodily responses and facial expressions such as wide-open eyes, an open mouth, goose bumps, tears, and a lump in the throat that typically accompany beauty and excellence experiences. Emmons and McCullough have found that after an elevating experience of beauty and excellence, a sense of grateful admiration wells up.

In addition to things like music, art, architecture, sport, and nature, religious and spiritual experiences are often connected to Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. This strength is a pathway for moral and spiritual advancement. A sense of the power of the divine is intimately connected with awe. The profound gratitude one feels for both the beauties of creation and the powers of the natural world are evidence of this strength.

Transcending Fear and Other Benefits

Developing the strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence gives us some added bonuses. We are more likely to feel expansive, positive, and grateful. We can savor enjoyment without feeling a need to do anything right then. Any compelling action tendencies may be delayed. As we know from Fredrickson, positive emotions broaden the possible scope of action. Those positive emotions also build a range of psychological resources. In addition, Haidt has found that elevation mediates ethical behavior. When we demonstrate elevating behavior, people that follow our actions are more likely to exhibit interpersonal fairness and self-sacrifice.

An Example of Beauty and Excellence

I believe that the late Chris Peterson had the strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. When I was a graduate student at Penn he was my teacher and advisor. I remember hearing about the city’s MuralArtsProgram from him on a chilly walk through Philadelphia while he pointed out his favorite paintings. This is their mission statement:


We create art with others to transform places, individuals, communities and institutions. Through this work, we establish new standards of excellence in the practice of public and contemporary art.

Our process empowers artists to be change agents, stimulates dialogue about critical issues, and builds bridges of connection and understanding.

Our work is created in service of a larger movement that values equity, fairness and progress across all of society.

We listen with empathetic ears to understand the aspirations of our partners and participants. And through beautiful collaborative art, we provide people with the inspiration and tools to seize their own future.

That feeling you now have? It is elevation, courtesy of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence.

Editor’s Note: Sherri’s articles on Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence was commissioned for the Positive Psychology News book, Character Strengths Matter.

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions?. Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.

Haidt, J. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived (pp. 275-289). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Haidt, J. (2003). The moral emotions. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Sherer, & H. H. Goldsmith, Handbook of Affective Sciences (pp. 852-870). New York: Oxford University Press.

Haidt, J. & Seder, P. (2009). Admiration and awe. In D. Sander & K. Scherer (Eds.), Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences. New York: Oxford University Press.


Joerg Fingerhut 1* , Javier Gomez-Lavin 1,2 , Claudia Winklmayr 1,3 and Jesse J. Prinz 1,4
  • 1 Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  • 2 Department of Philosophy, The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 3 Max-Planck-Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Leipzig, Germany
  • 4 The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York, NY, United States

To what extent do aesthetic taste and our interest in the arts constitute who we are? In this paper, we present a series of empirical findings that suggest an Aesthetic Self Effect supporting the claim that our aesthetic engagements are a central component of our identity. Counterfactual changes in aesthetic preferences, for example, moving from liking classical music to liking pop, are perceived as altering us as a person. The Aesthetic Self Effect is as strong as the impact of moral changes, such as altering political partisanship or religious orientation, and significantly stronger than for other categories of taste, such as food preferences (Study 1). Using a multidimensional scaling technique to map perceived aesthetic similarities among musical genres, we determined that aesthetic distances between genres correlate highly with the perceived difference in identity (Study 2). Further studies generalize the Aesthetic Self Effect beyond the musical domain: general changes in visual art preferences, for example from more traditional to abstract art, also elicited a strong Self Effect (Study 3). Exploring the breadth of this effect we also found an Anaesthetic Self Effect. That is, hypothetical changes from aesthetic indifference to caring about music, art, or beauty are judged to have a significant impact on identity. This effect on identity is stronger for aesthetic fields compared to leisure activities, such as hiking or playing video games (Study 4). Across our studies, the Anaesthetic Self Effect turns out to be stronger than the Aesthetic Self Effect. Taken together, we found evidence for a link between aesthetics and identity: we are aesthetic selves. When our tastes in music and the arts or our aesthetic interests change we take these to be transformative changes.

Environmental preference and restoration: (How) are they related?

Does the widely documented tendency to prefer natural over built environments owe to the perception of greater restorative potential in natural environments? In the present experimental study we tested the mediating role of restoration in environmental preferences. Participants viewed a frightening movie, and then were shown a video of either a natural or a built environment. We used two examples of each type of environment. Participants’ mood ratings were assessed before and after they viewed the frightening movie, and again after viewing the environmental video. Participants also rated the beauty of the environment shown (to indicate preference) and performed a test of concentration after viewing the environmental video. The results indicate that participants perceived the natural environments as more beautiful than the built environments. In addition, viewing natural environments elicited greater improvement in mood and marginally better concentration than viewing built environments. Mediational analyses revealed that affective restoration accounted for a substantial proportion of the preference for the natural over the built environments. Together, these results help substantiate the adaptive function of people's environmental preferences.

Age, Sex, Looks, and Attraction: A Puzzle for Evolutionary Psychology

I finally read Robert Wright’s modern classic The Moral Animal. I’ve got lots to say, but let me start with a simple puzzle I never noticed before. Evolutionary psychology has a simple explanation for why men value women’s youth far more than the reverse: Menopause. Females’ fertility declines sharply during their thirties, and largely vanishes in their forties. Males’ fertility, in contrast, declines more slowly, and does not asymptote to zero. We’re largely the descendants of men who liked young women, and woman who weren’t so picky about men’s age.

So far, so good. But this story fails to explain another key stylized fact: Conditioning on age, men care more about looks than women. Since age and looks are strongly negatively correlated for women, it’s easy to treat age and looks as a single package. But they’re distinct. A person can look very young and very ugly at the same time. So why do men care so much about how women look, strongly preferring a beautiful 25-year-old to a plain 25-year-old?

Before you answer, note that in many species, this pattern reverses. For lions, ducks, peacocks, and more, it’s the males who have seemingly inconvenient adornments, and the females who are plain.

What’s your explanation? Please stick to explanations consistent with evolutionary psychology.


Dec 6 2010 at 4:20pm

Fertility is also heavily associated with body shape. Fertility is, IIRC, almost perfectly tracked by hip-waist ratio.

Facial attractiveness…the top physical cue for men’s long-term partner strategies, beating out even hip-waist ratios…is a tremendously good marker for bacterial resistance.

Given (a) the insanely large human investment in offspring and (b) the high frequency of death during childbirth, mostly via infection, it isn’t at all surprising that the female is judged heavily by looks.

Further, male success (as a hunter/provider/leader) in the Evolutionarily Stable Environment is directly observable, thus leading to status as a/the dominant marker for men, overshadowing looks.

Dec 6 2010 at 4:21pm

Perhaps in humans, males contribute substantially more toward insuring the survival and reproduction of offspring than they do in other species. (For example, we know that single human mothers are, on average, at a big wealth disadvantage to married mothers.) Among a lot of other species, even females that have long-term mates pretty much operate as single parents.

Dec 6 2010 at 4:21pm

High parental contribution by human males makes it costly to reproduce with unfit partners. Appearance is highly sensitive to parasites and nutrition, especially in the natural state, so this is a way of telling if the females are also fit and not just fertile.

This is also consistent with the lowering of standards in the absence of expectations of parental contribution. Men are often willing to have low commitment sex with lower fitness and status women.

In contrast, for lions, ducks, peacocks, male contribution is very low and so the male’s primary contribution is DNA and therefore he has little reason to be choosy.

Dec 6 2010 at 4:34pm

A couple of possibilities (not mutually exclusive)

1. Beauty correlates with health. (No one finds a cachectic ill person pretty). And health correlates with being able to carry a parasitic fetus for 9 months, and still have enough energy left over to raise it for 2 decades.

2. Beauty correlates with being foreign or different genetically

3. Beauty correlates with having a body that can carry a fetus to term.

As to why it’s women versus men, a part of that answer might just be: because it has to be someone. There’s a division of labor and men have taken on other roles.

Also, it is men who do most of the seeking. They ask for the first date. The ones who wait to be asked out are the ones who have to compete on looks. Notice how much more attention gay men pay to their looks.

Daniel Kuehn
Dec 6 2010 at 4:40pm

“Adornment” requires maintenance. If a male animal can maintain vibrant plummage it means he’s not getting it knocked out in fights. He is able to dominate his opponents. Well adorned males are also healthy enough to maintain lush plummage, which means they have no trouble providing food and other needs.

Human adornment in terms of superficial/external ornamentation (I’m not sure exactly how you mean “adornment”) implies a wealth or leisure necessary to maintain that ornamentation. So why adornment in human females rather than males? Gestation and development time. Human development is a lot longer than development time for other animals, and women are the ones with the mammary glands. It’s the men that you have to cajole into sticking around. It’s the men that need to be convinced. So it’s the men that need to be impressed. When child development is quicker extended male presence may not be as necessary so there’s no incentive or need to impress him.

Chris T
Dec 6 2010 at 4:42pm

People’s beauty preferences correlate strongly with symmetry. Achieving symmetry is difficult biologically and requires a lot to go right developmentally. High symmetry indicates a high likelihood of good reproductive fitness.

Ruy Diaz
Dec 6 2010 at 4:45pm

Lions ‘looks’ may not be directed at females, but towards intimidating other males–the same function of the primate male beard.

The other species you mention are ones where the females chooses the mate, then does the work of raising the offspring, so, the genes is all she gets–hence the importance of looks.

As to why men are choosier about looks regardless of age…. I’m not so sure. Some females of the species have a thing for flings with very attractive males, while being choosier for long-term partners.

Dec 6 2010 at 4:52pm

Yes, yes, fertility signals, health signals, all important.

But also consider the impulse to protect and care for things that are “cute”: babies, baby animals like big-eyed puppies and kittens. Cute things trigger protective and adoring instincts that accompany higher survival outcomes.

The capacity to inspire endearment is a survival trait all its own consider make-up, fashion, etc. Related: the phrase, “She has a ‘great personality’ is acknowledgment of the circumvention of a female lacking in cuteness or beauty by being endearing or companionable despite her apparent unattractiveness.

Ugly things, the ugly stepchild for example, blunt those instincts and contribute to neglect, abuse, indifference.

David MacRae
Dec 6 2010 at 4:55pm

It helps to think about what is unique about our species – and there are a lot of things which are quite unusual. You’ve already mentioned one: it’s the female who wears the fancy plumage whereas in every other species that has this kind of sex distinction, it invariably is the male.

The purpose of secondary sex characteristics is normally to attract a mate and it is reasonable to think that this is the case for our species too, especially as it is obvious that men are indeed attracted to beautiful women.

Another way that we are unique is our mating patterns. Pre-agricultural societies are polygamous (one man might have as many as four wives). While there are plenty of other polygamous species, we are the only one where the male makes a significant contribution to rearing the young. There are monogamous species where this happens but we are the only polygamous one.

As hunters with weapons, human males are unique in that they are capable of providing for several families at once. The males of all other species either don’t get involved in caring for the young at all or they have only one family with a single mate. Good hunters and leaders get multiple women and so pass on their genes. Bad ones will only get one – if even that.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that the conventional explanation is the right one. Women are attracted to a man who is powerful and who will be a good provider for her children. Men are attracted to women who appear to have good genes and to be able to bear many babies. As for the question of the age difference, it’s really quite simple to explain. Women want someone who has demonstrated his abilities to provide and to lead. Either a young man with good potential or an older one who has already established himself should do quite nicely. His exact age is not especially important.

And why do men like them young? Well the thing is that older women presumably would already have had several children. Why would he want to provide for another man’s kids?

This leads into the question of menopause. First off, most species do not experience this phenomenon so the notion that its the reason for age differences simply doesn’t hold water. On the contrary, it must have some adaptive purpose in our species precisely because it’s unusual.

One idea advanced is that menopause serves to create the institution of grandmother. The old woman may no longer be attractive to men and her mate may be past the point of being able to support her anyway (assuming he’s survived this long primitive men frequently die from injuries in the hunts or the wars). Despite that, she still is quite capable of helping take care of her grandchildren and thus passing her genes on that way.

Another difference between us and other species is that our young are reared communally by the entire village.

Dec 6 2010 at 5:16pm

For virtually all of human history, age was unknown and unknowable. Even nowadays, age is reported with a lot of error. Therefore, a rational man would definitely prefer a 25-year-old woman who looks 25 to a 25-year-old woman who looks 45.

Douglass Holmes
Dec 6 2010 at 5:17pm

Although there seems to be no evolutionary advantage to raising someone else’s child, there is an advantage to selecting a woman who already has at least one child she has proven her fertility. Yet men will usually go for the young woman with no children who may not survive childbirth and avoid a woman with at least one child, even though she has proven her ability to bear children. Why do women go for a mate who has proven to be capable of providing while men seem to prefer taking a chance on the young, beautiful, and unproven child-bearer?

Jason Collins
Dec 6 2010 at 6:06pm

Males typically have adornments as fitness indicators as they are the ones competing to be selected by females. As males are able to impregnate more than one female and may have a small role in child raising, females are typically choosy while males are not. There generally needs to be an element of handicap in the signal for it to be reliable (read the Handicap Principle by Amotz and Avishag Zahavi for a great discussion of this, although it is also covered nicely in Matt Ridley’s the Red Queen). The animal examples given fall into this category.

As humans have a lower level of polygamy (during our evolution, our typical pattern was serial monogamy), there is not this bias in fitness indicators. That is not to say they are not present. Geoffrey Miller makes a strong argument in The Mating Mind that the brain could be a fitness indicator, while conspicuous consumption by males could certainly fall into this category. The lower level of polygamy increases the choosiness of the male human as they are required to invest more in offspring and may be restrained in their ability to attract other women.

However, the main distinction that should be made is that female beauty is not an adornment as described above. In experiments, humans generally rate an average of two faces (computer generated) higher than the unusual or unique individual face. This contrasts to the preference for the extreme in most signalling contests between males. Beauty probably indicates features such as a low mutation burden or an absence of parasites and disease.

You could also consider a Fisherian basis for beauty, whereby a preference (with a possibly weak link to fitness) arises and aberration from this preference dooms the plain children to a life alone.

Paavo Ojala
Dec 6 2010 at 6:12pm

How distinct are beauty and age. They are not the same, but I’m pretty sure that people tend to assume ugly people to be older than they are.

Manly features make women look older. Things that are considered ugly are also signs of age: bad skin, obesity.

Consider cartoon women. My hypothesis is that for syndicated newspaper cartoons cues for ugliness and oldness are the same (especially for women). These are: small eyes, big nose, prominent chin and obesity. (Wrinkles and asymmetry are harder to draw naturally and are only used in extreme cases. Asymmetry is probably more often cue for craziness.)

” A person can look very young and very ugly at the same time.”
It would be interesting to find examples of these young uglies and find out what makes them ugly.

Dec 6 2010 at 6:27pm

Preferring young over middle-aged tells you who is fertile vs. barren.

Preferring beautiful over plain or ugly, conditioning on age, tells you who is healthier. That could be due to higher genetic quality, so that you’re looking for who has the most robust genes to give your offspring. Or it could be due to environmental differences like not living in such a pathogen-ridden area, which would tell you who has a cleaner environment to rear your children in.

Jason Collins
Dec 6 2010 at 6:34pm

Having referred to Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen earlier in the context of the handicap principle, I should mention that the remainder of the book deals explicitly with the issues of monogamy and polygamy in humans and the uses of beauty. I rate it as Ridley’s best book.

Dec 6 2010 at 6:53pm

The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller is a great book. Attractiveness indicates health. The peacock must be really free of mutation for everything to go right with his tail.

Dec 6 2010 at 8:23pm

Beauty is a status signal. Standards of beauty around the world reduce to expressing a high socio-economic class.

The standard of beauty itself is culturally constructed around high-status indicators. What evolutionary psychology has determined is that people will prefer whatever attaches to the brainspace it has set aside for it.

We select for beauty because wealthier families have more resources. They can better ensure our reproductive success and will have a genetic stake in it.

Dec 6 2010 at 8:45pm

Also, to untie your Gordian knot of fitness indicators: men should carry a different set of signals based on the division of labor.

In the West, men should come with four indicators: his family’s wealth, his wealth, his potential to gather wealth, his fertility.

In the West, women should come with two: her fertility and her family’s wealth.

So men look at two signals, women at four. We should expect that men would rate both their signals far more highly than women rate any one of theirs. We should also expect women to be more interested in what their mates do and what they have.

This construction benefits from predicting something we do see: women being attracted to men who accomplish things. You hang those pelts from your belt, baby.

Dec 6 2010 at 9:57pm

Why do women go for a mate who has proven to be capable of providing while men seem to prefer taking a chance on the young, beautiful, and unproven child-bearer?

a) Women with children have been sexually active, women without children might not have been. The former has an increased chance of sperm competition with other males.

b) If the couple pair up for a longer term, the woman may insist the man care for all of her children, including the step-children. This imposes costs on the male that he could have used instead on his biological children.

c) If the male disappears from the scene, the female has to raise the man’s biological child as well as any other children she may have. The more children he has, the more her resources are divided. Hence a man’s biological child will get more resources from a woman with no other children than one who has to divide her resources amongst several others.

b) and especially c) can be compensated for if the woman and/or her family is wealthier. Thus, we should see the penalty for an existing child reduced as woman’s resources increase. I’m not sure how easily testable this is without a controlled experiment.

Lars P
Dec 6 2010 at 10:46pm

So why do men care so much about how women look, strongly preferring a beautiful 25-year-old to a plain 25-year-old?

Aside from the valid points about “beauty” indicating health and non mutant status, it is also in large degree created by the woman herself.

That is, smart and capable women can make themselves look good in a lot of big and small ways, so “beauty” also indicates those genetic properties.

Dec 6 2010 at 11:21pm

This is an easy one, ev. psychologists have understood this for a while.

Animals with high degrees of male display (peacocks, pheasants, etc.) have lower degrees of commitment to offspring. Because the male’s commitment is all based on gene quality, females care exclusively about fitness indicators, so males compete with exaggerated versions of those cues.

The human analogue of this situation is short-term mating. Men seeking short-term mating focus on being attractive and having a sexy personality. Men also are also less concerned with female beauty if they don’t need to make a commitment (i.e. if sex is offered for free).

However, in marriage markets, men are demanding of attractiveness (not to waste resources on women who will bear sickly babies). Women care about commitment cues more than attractiveness in marriage markets.

Basically humans have complex mixed mating strategies (short-term and long-term), which other animals lack.

Jason Malloy
Dec 7 2010 at 11:40am

Differential male preference for looks is mostly conditional on culture and type of mating. Long-term mating favors men, and puts sexual selection pressures on women (i.e. women who seek long-term investment are subject to male choosiness). This is the mating culture of make-up, jewelry, and peacocking females white Europeans are most familiar with.

On the other hand, short-term mating leads to choosy women, and more indiscriminate male choice (promiscuous men relax their standards in comparison to monogamous men). Here is where the men resort to the jewelry and make-up peacocking, and it’s not difficult to find cultures where the standard animal model holds. Just look at the cast of Jersey Shore: a good example of a short-term mating culture. Which gender on that show spends more time on their physical appearance?

You see a similar pattern in the tropical hoe cultures of sub-Saharan Africa and Papua New Guinea.

Miguel Madeira
Dec 7 2010 at 11:41am

“Pre-agricultural societies are polygamous”

I think polygamy is more a trait of agricultural societies than of pre-agricultural societies (in H/G societies there were few man “rich” enough to maintain more than one family).

Dec 7 2010 at 1:08pm

The traits might also be selectively neutral code arising from mutation that had no reason at all. Darwinism is like Newtonianism, it’s a good start, but there is a lot more to evolution and physics than the clockwork universe where everything has a purpose.

Troy Camplin
Dec 7 2010 at 1:23pm

You are mistaken that males are the ones doing the selecting. Certainly males have a preference for youth and health signals — of which physical beauty is a significant indicator — but females too have preferences. They choose males that demonstrate competence and ability to support offspring. In a species such as our where intelligence is what helps us survive, there has to be intelligence indicators. Artistic abilities and the ability to create songs and poetry and music are indications of intelligence (this is why male rock and country have historically been found to be so sexy). Dance also falls into this category, with physical prowess added to it. Then add various demonstrations of strength. We see all of these in any number of traditional festivals — and the demonstrations are dominated by males. Those who are successful at acquiring things can of course buy fancy objects which demonstrate their success, which further act as signals for women. And if you can combine them? (Well, we’re back to rock stars again.) Women are the ones selecting — far, far more than are men. (Don’t believe me? Then why do bars have Ladies Night, during which time they get drinks for free? Men don’t need such enticements, as they are less picky about who shows up.)

Dec 7 2010 at 1:59pm

I have two reactions to this.

1) Men don’t just want children. They want grandchildren. So they select women who will have a liklihood of producing attractive children who will have an increased liklihood of breeding. The preference for children, however, trumps the preference for grandchildren. Which is why men “settle” and will pursue an opportunity for sex with a less attractive woman if the more attractive woman is not available. They’d rather have a greater chance at ugly children than a lower chance at beautiful children.

2) I agree w/Troy Camplin. It really isn’t the men doing the selecting. In fact, I only think that the female of the human species appears to be adorned from within the species. It’s not hard to imagine being a sentient non-human and concluding that the increased male musculature, height and physical prowess indicate a stronger male adornment. And that the females are smaller and more plain looking. As a male in the species, those cues are non-male cues. We’re attracted to the lack of adornment of females.

Females, on the other hand, are selecting not only on the physical adornments of the male, but also social adornments – wealth. Men pursue expensive toys because they act as adornments to women, who are really looking for men to be able to demonstrate their wealth.

Dec 7 2010 at 2:00pm

There is a probably a lot of different explanations.

1)A women’s beauty isn’t an inconvenient status symbol. I would liken a peacock’s feathers more to a BMW a man can’t afford than to a women’s pretty face.

2)Who made the joke that babies are cute so that we don’t eat them? The same logic could be applied to women. They are attractive so we don’t beat them- they are biologically weaker.

3)Symmetry is often associated with good looks. We evolved to find assymetry unnattractive because someone with one eyeball and an extra foot growing out of their left temple is genetically inferior. Our sensual accuity tells us there is a large difference between a plain looking girl and Rachel McAdams, but really there is not. Last time I checked, ugly people still reproduce.

Dec 7 2010 at 5:26pm

In a state of nature very very few older women are good looking?

Dec 7 2010 at 7:11pm

Perhaps it’s a form of signalling to spurn unattractive women. A male may be saying to the attractive women, “I am so certain of the health of my genes, I can afford to spurn the women I find ugly.”

Healthy males can afford to engage in this activity, and unhealthy males cannot. I think those are the conditions necessary for signalling to be useful.

I’ve heard that men become more attractive to women when they are in a relationship (contrasted with the same male being chronically single) I suspect that being in a relationship is like having someone vouch for you. You are suddenly in greater demand when women realize that someone finds you tolerable/attractive. Having a relationship with an attractive female is like having someone with good genes vouch for your good genes. It may be a useful strategy to have ONLY attractive women vouching for your good genes.

Dec 8 2010 at 1:37am

Beauty is generally a good proxy for not only age but also health and, thus, fertility. How beauty is generally defined isn’t completely independent of those more evolutionarily important features. Since natural selection works by acting on groups, the signs generally correlated with being more fertile and healthy such as good skin, youth, fitness, etc will compose what we consider beautiful. Our brains are constructed in a way that uses shortcuts to facilitate decision making thus, we prefer a beautiful 25 year-old over a plain one.

Dec 8 2010 at 8:54am

Observation 1:
In our society, we make the assumption that men have to be enslaved if they are to be good parents. This assumption is made explicit in family law.
Most evolutionary psychology arguments are based on the idea that a man selects a woman for her health because he is going to make a major commitment to her and her children (at a time long before family law).
It appears to me that at least one of these belief sets must be wrong.

Observation 2:
While men do make a big commitment to children, women’s commitment is still bigger. Status isn’t enough in a woman’s partner, because before the invention of pension funds she couldn’t inherit his wealth – he had to stay alive to keep providing. This means that women must have had an even greater interest in the youth and health of their partners than men did.
This suggests to me that the whole men-seek-young-healthy connection is simply the wrong way to think about this.

Observation 3:
If I posit that women take the lead in this dance, and men react, a lot of it all makes sense. I also propose that it is not the man who values the youth and health of the woman so much as it is the woman who values her own youth and health: a woman wants to be sexually active when she is young and healthy, and not so much as she gets older. How does she (or, at least, her body) arrange this?
The answer is “cuteness”. Both men and women react to “cuteness” (as someone else has observed above). Humans react to “cute” by wanting to be around, and protect anyone/anything “cute” – in humans that would mean big eyes, small noses, clear skin, high-pitched voice, small(er) physical size. Babies and children use “cute” to get adults – particularly women but in practice all adults – to watch and protect them. Young women re-use that “cute” reaction, but they are seeking to use it on adult men (and for a rather different outcome).

When a woman is young and healthy and can have babies at low risk, she looks “cute”. This causes men to be drawn to her, to want to protect her and to be around her all the time – many of the same instincts women have toward children. (Of course, it also leads to a small percentage of men getting confused about the age of the people they should be mating with – but now at least we have an explanation for that anomaly.)

As the woman gets older and has had children, the evolutionary calculus changes: she has children and will soon have/already has grandchildren, and she can contribute more to her own genetic future by helping the existing brood (in “grandmother mode”) than by risking her life to have just… one… more. Thus, menopause. However, if she’s not going to have children, then being pursued, and even physically controlled by protective males is a problem, so she also alters her appearance and stops looking “cute.” Men respond by leaving her alone.

So, the rules are simple. Men, like women, feel protective and associative urges toward people who are “cute.” Women use this to attract men when the women are young and want to breed, and they stop looking “cute” to stop attracting men when breeding (and attention from men) is less advantageous – and men simply respond to the signals given.

Today, men lose interest in their middle-aged wives, not because the men have changed, but because their wives have. (Recall the old joke that when a man and a woman marry, she hopes he’ll change and he hopes she won’t – and both will be disappointed.)

Of course, there are young women who never look “cute.” Some of them can’t because they are fundamentally unhealthy in some it’s probably just a minor “mistake.” They get overlooked as an evolutionary error, in this theory, or may adopt compensating behaviors.

This is not to deny that the subjective experience can be a miserable one for a middle-aged women as she finds men losing interest in her (and for a loving middle-aged man who finds himself realizing he is no longer all that attracted to his wife). Then again, our bodies subject us to some very unsettling experiences in pursuit of their own genetic goals, as any of us can remember on thinking back to the teenage years.

Watch the video: Daily Nudge - Gods Imprint (August 2022).