To the likely dismay of those who argue beauty is in the eye of the beholder, biostatisticians have claimed they have devised a computer programme to predict whether a face will be considered attractive.
The software crunches a mass of calculations on the geometry and symmetry of the face, including so-called "golden ratios" of proportions between the eyes, nose, ears and lips singled out in previous research into the mystery of beauty.
The team put the programme through its paces in tests on 18 male and 18 female volunteers aged 19 to 61. The human guinea pigs were shown pictures of 420 people drawn from the general population, equally divided among men and women, and were asked to rate the faces for attractiveness on a scale of one to 10.
The faces were Caucasian, and the images were converted to grey scale, reducing the effects of skin colour.
As benchmark of attractiveness, the volunteers were also shown 32 movie stars from the 1930s to the present day, such as Greta Garbo, Meg Ryan, Rock Hudson and Keanu Reaves.
The results startlingly confirmed recommendations followed by artists dating back to the Renaissance for drawing beautiful faces. These "neo-classical canons" stipulate, for instance, that the width of the face must be four times the width of the nose, and the height of the forehead, length of the nose and height of the lower face must all be of equal length.
Out of six "neo-classical canons" used in the programme, only one - a guideline about the proportion between the mouth and width of the nose - turned out to be wrong.
Men and women generally agreed on the criteria for overall
attractiveness, but men tend to be more generous in their scoring than women, the study also found.
Female faces were given higher ratings by both sexes, which suggests that feminine traits overall are viewed as more attractive than male.
Smaller chins, smaller noses and a larger distance between the eyes are attractive in women, the study found. Intriguingly, a smaller width of the mouth was also found to be a desirable trait in women, a finding that contrasts with the "trout" lips favoured by the fashion business today.
Among men, an attractive face was divided into equal vertical thirds, and had symmetry between the upper tips of the lips and the nose.
The study appears in0 Pattern Recognition, a journal published by the Pattern Recognition Society. Authors are Kendra Schmid, David Marx and Ashok Samal of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. – (Sapa)
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