By Laura Germine, Richard Russell, P. Matthew Bronstad, Gabriëlla A.M. Blokland, Jordan W. Smoller, Holum Kwok, Samuel E. Anthony, Ken Nakayama, Gillian Rhodes, and Jeremy B. Wilmer | Current Biology | October 1, 2015
Although certain characteristics of human faces are broadly considered more attractive (e.g., symmetry, averageness), people also routinely disagree with each other on the relative attractiveness of faces. That is, to some significant degree, beauty is in the “eye of the beholder.” Here, we investigate the origins of these individual differences in face preferences using a twin design, allowing us to estimate the relative contributions of genetic and environmental variation to individual face attractiveness judgments or face preferences. We first show that individual face preferences (IP) can be reliably measured and are readily dissociable from other types of attractiveness judgments (e.g., judgments of scenes, objects). Next, we show that individual face preferences result primarily from environments that are unique to each individual. This is in striking contrast to individual differences in face identity recognition, which result primarily from variations in genes . We thus complete an etiological double dissociation between two core domains of social perception (judgments of identity versus attractiveness) within the same visual stimulus (the face). At the same time, we provide an example, rare in behavioral genetics, of a reliably and objectively measured behavioral characteristic where variations are shaped mostly by the environment. The large impact of experience on individual face preferences provides a novel window into the evolution and architecture of the social brain, while lending new empirical support to the long-standing claim that environments shape individual notions of what is attractive.