Average beauty

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: December 6th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Whether something is “easy on the eyes” may all be in the mind of the beholder.

It could be an attractive face, a catchy tune or a type of wristwatch.

It could even be a bunch of random dots on a piece of paper.

In the end, people like what they are accustomed to.

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, used dots to study “beauty in averageness.”

They started by familiarizing volunteers with random patterns of dots.

Then scientists asked the participants to judge variations on the patterns and rate their appeal.

The closer the designs were to the prototype, the more the volunteers liked them.

Researchers think that’s because it took participants less time to classify a familiar pattern. In other words, attractiveness goes up when the time it takes to think about it goes down.

Essentially, scientists were able to make arbitrary patterns likeable just by training people to recognize them quickly.

When speed was taken out of the equation, the relationship between similarity to the prototype and attractiveness disappeared.

Earlier studies established that people like prototypes in a wide variety of categories, including dogs, birds, fish and cars.

This tendency to like what we know could be linked to the concept of evolutionary sexual selection.

We subconsciously may think that people who stray from the prototype aren’t fit to be mates.

This programming might be so strong it carries over even to dots.

Whatever the explanation, it seems certain that familiarity breeds contentment.