SCIENCE
05/13/2013 09:55 am ET Updated Aug 04, 2014

Science Of Beauty: 4 Physical Traits That Help Define Female Facial Attractiveness (VIDEO)

"Beauty" is how we appreciate the world. It’s what attracts us to each other, and quite frankly, scientists suggest it's biologically advantageous. But what exactly makes something -- or, better yet, someone -- attractive?

Cognitive researchers Dr. Kang Lee and Dr. Pam Pallett claim to have found some key factors in determining how attractive a woman's face may appear to others. They even suggested in a 2010 study that these keys to attractiveness include facial ratio, alluring features, and averageness.

Watch the video above for a rundown of what Pallett and Lee now have to say about their research -- and leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

JACQUELINE HOWARD: Hey everyone. Jacqueline Howard here. They say, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ Now we may not all agree on what’s beautiful -- but it turns out how our brains judge and process attractiveness is universal. So, to figure out how we decide what’s hot and what’s not, I spoke with Dr. Kang Lee, he's over at the University of Toronto, and Dr. Pam Pallett, who's at Ohio State University. They co-authored a 2010 study about female facial attractiveness.

PAM PALLETT: Facial attractiveness, that’s what drives our reproduction, our draw to other people. And so it’s an important question to ask what makes a person attractive and how this attractiveness works.

JH: But the researchers found way more than just that. They discovered a few myths and facts that may have you second-guessing your own thoughts on attractiveness. For example, have you ever heard of the golden ratio? Ancient Greeks believed beauty was represented by a ratio of 1:1.618. So whether that proportion is in art or architecture or even your face, some people might think that's what makes things attractive.

DR. KANG LEE: However, as we have found in our experiments that for each person on our face we actually have some intrinsic ratio between the distance between our eyes, and the distance for example between our eyes and our mouth that make our face look attractive.

JH: Because of this facial ratio, a simple haircut can make you look like a supermodel overnight. How exactly? Well, if it changes the optimal ratio of your face. See, the ideal ratio is when the distance between your eyes and mouth measures about 36 percent of the length of your whole face and when the distance between just your eyes measures about 46 percent of your face’s width. So getting bangs, for instance, can shorten the apparent length of your face. Got it? But what about extremely attractive people? Are they physiological outliers? Do they kind of step outside the norm?

KL: The more average a face is, the more good looking the face is. Basically what our brain does is we go around in our environment, picking up people’s faces and making the average out of these faces we see on a daily basis. And because of that then we actually have in our head, we have a representation of the average of the face. So there’s something we have genetically that’s driving us to prefer to look at something that’s average.

PP: Forming an average like that is actually beneficial in terms of your ability to process information, because it makes it easier to encode that information.

JH: They also mentioned there’s yet another factor behind how attractiveness works. See, we have what’s called sexual dimorphic cues. They make us more attractive to the opposite sex -- for women, this means our feminine traits like bigger eyes and fuller lips. And, many of us play up these traits for attractiveness. Helloooo, with makeup. But does it really work?

KL: So by adding eyelashes, you actually set up a high contrast between your eyes and the surrounding areas of your face. So there's the high contrast makes the face or the eyes more attractive to others.

PP: And similar with the color of the lips and surrounding skin. So the larger that contrast is, the more feminine a woman will appear, and you can imagine the usage of makeup in promoting that.

JH: One study in France even found that waitresses wearing red lipstick got bigger tips from men. And, a recent study out of Gettysburg College found this whole contrasting of facial features helps us decipher how young or old someone looks. But do only humans work to make themselves more attractive? Sexual selection across species is what causes either a male or female to land a date, or a mate, by appearing more attractive. We already talked about makeup, right? Well, some research suggests that even flamingos apply a makeup of their own during mating season. Now it’s not Covergirl, but both male and female birds will apply a natural oil on their feathers to pop a little more pink. So what do you think: Is beauty really only a matter of biology? And is it out of our control? How does that affect modern relationships? Come on, talk nerdy to me!

See all Talk Nerdy to Me posts.

Interested in more research on facial attractiveness?

Dr. Kendra Schmid, assistant professor of biostatistics at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, also calculated a facial ratio to measure attractiveness using 29 different points on the face -- and she also incorporated the idea of the golden ratio. Click here to see how her study measures up.

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