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Study: Beauty in Eye of the Beholder

  • Jessica Berman

FILE - Actor Brad Pitt looks at photographs at a fringe event of a summit to end sexual violence in conflict in London.

FILE - Actor Brad Pitt looks at photographs at a fringe event of a summit to end sexual violence in conflict in London.

Why do some people find American actor Brad Pitt “dreamy” and others think he’s merely handsome? A new study suggests that what a person finds good-looking in another individual is shaped by our environment and experiences.

Beauty, say experts, is very individual. While Pitt is undeniably good-looking, not everyone agrees to what extent.

That's what Laure Germine, a researcher in psychiatric genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, recently helped to publish in the journal Current Biology, where investigators studied the face preferences of over 35,000 people who visited the website TestMyBrain.org.

“We wanted to focus specifically on this so-called 'eye of the beholder,' the individual judgments of face attractiveness that differ from each other," she said. "So I think most people agree that, for example, Brad Pitt is better looking than, say, [American presidential candidate] Donald Trump. But when it comes to Brad Pitt versus [actor] George Clooney versus [actor] Ryan Gosling, then reasonable people might disagree."

Included in the study were almost 550 sets of identical twins who share 100 percent of their genetic material, and 214 pairs of same sex, non-identical twins whose genes are dissimilar.

It was expected that the identical twins would share an identical face preference, while the fraternal twins’ preferences would be more diverse like the general population.

In fact, the preference for beautiful — or dislike of average — faces agreed only about 50 percent of the time, suggesting that environmental experiences have as much influence on people's idea of beauty as genetics.

“So it could be if someone has a romantic relationship with someone they are very close to and they think of very positively, the characteristics of that person’s face then will seem even more attractive to them even on other people, and vice versa," said Germine.

In other words, beauty appears very much to be very much "in the eye of the beholder."

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