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Are faces more attractive when they are closer to the average of their ethnic group?

Potter and Corneille came up with the following study:(1, pdf)

Abstract: Face attractiveness relates positively to the mathematical averageness of a face, but how close attractive faces of varying groups are to their own and to other-group prototypes in the face space remains unclear.  In two studies, we modeled the locations of attractive and unattractive Caucasian, Asian, and African faces in participants’ face space using multidimensional scaling analysis.  In all three sets of faces, facial attractiveness significantly increased with the absolute proximity of a face to its group prototype.  In the case of Caucasian and African faces (Study 1), facial attractiveness also tended to increase with the absolute proximity of a face to the other-group prototype.  However, this association was at best marginal, and it became clearly non-significant when distance to the own-group prototype was controlled for.  Thus, the present research provides original evidence that average features of faces contribute to increasing their attractiveness, but only when these features are average to the group to which a face belongs.  The present research also offers further support to face space models of people’s mental representations of faces.

It has been repeatedly shown that attractive faces tend to be closer to the average of their ethnic group.  But it is also well-documented that attractive non-European faces are closer to European norms than the average of their respective ethnic groups whereas attractive European faces are very European-looking, and the authors do not mention this.  It is hardly necessary to cite this literature.  East Asian Manga is full of characters with face shapes shifted toward European norms; East Asian aesthetic cosmetic surgery procedures cluster in the mid-face, generally shifting the face toward European norms; the models in magazines catering to the African-American community have faces shifted toward European norms, and so on. 

Potter and Corneille cited a study showing that the attractiveness of European faces increased with a shift toward Asian norms, but it is easily seen how flawed this study was by looking at their version of an attractive European woman:

The average European woman face in a sample.

This image is taken from Rhodes et al. (2005).(2, pdf)  Methodological criticism of this study –

The authors obtained averages by adjusting for distance between the eyes, which is an incorrect way to address shape in shape comparisons.  The reason they made averages of faces within ethnic groups was to obtain an attractive face given that averageness is a well-documented correlate of attractiveness, but this method leaves out of analysis a much more powerful correlate of beauty in women, namely the extent of femininity.  In addition, the average of attractive faces is rated more attractive than the average of non-attractive faces, and hence the choice of models used to make the ethnic group averages comes into the picture.  Furthermore, the offspring of individuals from different continental populations do not manifest faces in between those of their parents (has been discussed within this site).  So this study is completely useless.

So how did Potter and Corneille manage to come up with their results?

Here is how.  In a multi-ethnic sample of faces, we have the following:

Total shape variation = shape variation within groups + shape variation between groups

To address the hypotheses the authors tested, the two components must be separated, but the tool they used to generate 3D faces, FaceGen Modeler, doesn’t do a proper job of separating these components when it generates random faces.  It is not even designed to.  The tool is predominantly used by game developers to come up with custom faces, and these faces need only look male or female or of individuals of various ethnic backgrounds (see the following example).

Angelina Jolie in 3d

The face shown above is easily recognizable as one that approximates Angelina Jolie’s face, generated using FaceGen modeler, yet a comparison with the actual Angelina Jolie will reveal a number of differences, which cannot be eliminated no matter how one fine tunes the face using the software.  So, the basic idea behind FaceGen modeler is to get a rough approximation.  Download the fg (facegen format) file of Angelina Jolie’s face (by strigoi) and play with the trial version of FaceGen to see for yourself.

We also have:

Total shape variation = shape variation due to varying sex hormone levels + shape variation due to factors other than sex hormone levels

We can expand the first equation to:

Total shape variation =  (within groups shape variation due to varying sex hormone levels + within groups shape variation due to factors other than sex hormone levels) + (between groups shape variation due to varying sex hormone levels + between groups shape variation due to factors other than sex hormone levels)

We know that many shape variables are affected by how the shape variable has been moulded by sex hormones and how it has been moulded by other factors.  Thus, for instance, the nose will become more projecting with both increasing Europeanization and increasing masculinization.  We know that the extent of masculinity-femininity is related to attractiveness.  Hence, we need all four components separated in equation 3, which, again, FaceGen Modeler doesn’t achieve well when it generates random faces.

Once the four components are separated, the authors’ hypotheses can easily be tested by regressing the attractiveness ratings of individual faces against the components of total shape variation.  To address the issue under investigation, one has to control for the component of total shape variation comprising of variation within groups.  See the pdfs of the articles on beauty as shape and a derived preference concerning jaw shape for how to use geometric morphometric tools to separate the components of face shape variation; this would require using actual faces and recording landmark coordinate data for each face.

So what did the authors do?

They computed the distances between each face and the group prototypes.  So, the four components of total shape variation were not taken into account by the software they used, and they were not separated in computing the distances between individual faces and the group prototypes.  How did the authors hope to address their hypothesis?

If a correlate of beauty is related to approaching an average but also deviating from this average in a specific manner, then each correlate negates to some extent the effect of the other.  Since the majority of face shape variation is found within populations, how do the authors hope to be able to detect components of beauty that increase attractiveness on one count but decrease it on another if the component of total shape variation that exists within populations is not removed/controlled for?  The study is seriously methodologically flawed and useless.

Another shortcoming of this study was that the analyses were run on ratings of the front view of the face only, whereas the side view is more relevant to the ethnicity question.


  1. Potter T, Corneille O. Locating attractiveness in the face space: faces are more attractive when closer to their group prototype. Psychon Bull Rev. Jun 2008;15(3):615-622.
  2. Rhodes G, Lee K, Palermo R, et al. Attractiveness of own-race, other-race, and mixed-race faces. Perception. 2005;34(3):319-340.


"East Asian Manga is full of characters with face shapes shifted toward European norms;"

Uhh, how do you know this is an indicator of east asian beauty standards? The anime art style typically looks like a caricature of european features, and I've read from the works of a number of cultural anthropologists that east asians don't really view them as looking more foreign.

Have you also ever addressed the issue of skin color here? I've been looking for some unbiased analysis of that.

"the models in magazines catering to the African-American community have faces shifted toward European norms, and so on."

That's hard to say as to whether that's really due to europeanization and little else. It could be that black models in african-american magazines have lower testosterone levels due to greater european ancestry.

Really, the only major problems I see with the typical attractiveness of black women are their larger mouths (though that's not really much of an ethnic trait) and their greater masculinity. It'd be interesting to see a study that takes those factors into account, compared to their other ethnic features.

"Attractive non European faces are closer to European norms than the average of their respectve ethnic groups"
Yes and no.

Evidence suggests the statement holds true for women's faces, as one would expect given the sexual selection north European women have been subjected to. However it is hardly a corollary for the same to be true of men, if anything tight sexual selection for women brings relaxed selection for men.

That is not a valid argument, since the physical attractiveness of a male often depends on feminized features, and genetics traits from the mother.

fgdfg: Cartoons are supposed to be caricatures, and it is obvious that Manga characters tend to have narrower faces and narrower noses than caricatures that would be better suited to the looks of the Japanese. The key is a shift in the direction of aesthetic preferences rather than caricatures that appear completely foreign.

I have hardly discussed skin color. I don’t see much relevance of it to this site.

The underlying reason for why African-American models in magazines catering to their community are shifted toward European facial norms is unlikely to have much to do with testosterone levels. Shifts in the direction of Europeanization include more prominent nasal bones and a less prominent mouth, both the opposite of what lower testosterone levels would result in.

Roy: Good looking male African-American models also have faces shifted away from sub-Saharan African norms and toward European norms. Another apparent illustration of this issue can be found in the features of the Woodabe, a tribe in Niger. If you look at enough male Woodabe, you will note that among sub-Saharan Africans, their faces are shifted away from most sub-Saharan African groups, and in the direction of more derived shapes. A number of Woodabe men could be mistaken for men from East Africa or South Asia, regions where there is known European contribution. I am not familiar with the genetics of the Woodabe, but my guess is that the explanation of their facial features has less if anything to do with the contribution of non-sub-Saharan African genetics, but more to do with sexual selection. Among the Woodabe, the women select the men, and the women emphasize attractiveness. The Woodabe also have a low opinion of stereotypical sub-Saharan African facial features, and use terms to describe them that would be considered racist if used by non-sub-Saharan Africans (e.g., terms invoking comparisons with some of our primate relatives).

If my guess about Woodabe genetics is correct then the example of the Woodabe would be one of sexual selection leading to more derived facial features regardless of whether it acts more strongly on men or on women. I don’t buy much into Peter Frost’s ideas about sub-Saharan Africans, and more details about the matter in the article you linked can be found in a discussion we have had on masculinity. In the article you cited, Frost says in the beginning, “What is less true is the assumption that evolution stood still there [sub-Saharan Africa] while continuing elsewhere.” Why would an anthropologist resort to such a ridiculous straw man? And he doesn’t address their facial features. If, according to him, sexual selection acted more strongly on men in sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe, one would expect sub-Saharan Africans to have more derived facial features than what they possess, even features that rival Europeans’ if the selection were particularly strong. Women are very interested in men’s attractiveness. The reason that in the final run they emphasize looks less than men do in mate choice is because being more selective, women look for multiple desirable characteristics, all competing with each other for attention/emphasis and hence looks don’t count as much.

And, take a look at this and ask Frost to explain it: (breeding sex ratio (effective number of females to males) higher in Europe than in West Africa, African pygmy and the San of southern Africa).

The Complementor: I don’t know whose argument you are calling invalid, mine or the authors’ whose study I am critiquing, but your point is neither true nor applicable here. Studies assessing the relation between masculinity and men’s facial attractiveness have found results all over map: a positive effect of increased masculinization, a positive effect of increased feminization and no relationship with masculinity.

So, my assumption is that the person behind this website is either a lonely fat girl who likes to hate on the skinny girls or a middle aged man who is balding, unattractive, out of shape, and wouldn't be able to get a woman if his life depended on it. Honestly, maybe if this person spent less time on this website and decided to maybe work on himself/herself than they would be happy enough so they didn't have to spend their lives categorizing people into feminine and masculine. Just for your information, just because a woman has a little more testosterone doesn't mean she is a man. She still has a vagina and ovaries and can still give birth to children. Also, men like soft women, but they also like strong women. Men love athletic strong women who have some soft features. You need balance. Besides, your pictures are so innacurate. You post the worst pictures of fashion models. The whole breast size thing is truly irrelevant. I mean come on. Men are known for being attracted to both full breasts and perky small breasts. Both types of breasts are signs of fertility, and therefore men are subconsiously attracted to them. Besides why are you arguing about attraction? Attraction is instinctive. Our brains are hardwired to be attracted to certain physical features. However, there is no one formula for an attractive person. Like I said full breasts and perky small breasts both indicate strong health and fertility. Attraction is a primitive way of choosing a mate. Why spend soo much time debating it? Beauty is what truly matters. How beautiful a person is physically is a totally different evaluation. Beauty was understood by man once they evolved to the point where they could reason. To understand beauty one must be capable of reasoning, one must be intelligent. On the other note, an animal 20x dumber than a human is capable of knowing what is and what is not attractive. As for the race issue. No one race is truly more attractive than the other. I am white and I am attracted to white women. However, white women are not the most attractive women on earth. I find that no particular race has more attractive women than the other. For example, white women rarely have far set eyes or full lips. Their nasal bridge is naturally more raised and therefore masculine. White women are often criticized for having flat buttocks and small breasts. However, I am extremely attracted to white women. Black women have full lips and strong coloring. A black woman will never look "washed out". They have bright eyes, never dull. They tend to have far apart eyes, and generally have full buttocks which is proven extremely attractive in women. Asian women have rounded smooth faces. They have far apart eyes and a very low nasal bridge. Their eyes are very bright as well, and asian women rarely would ever look washed out either. Asian women have beautiful thick dark hair that screams attractive and fertile. All women of all races are generally attractive. Also, multi-racial women are also extremely attractive. To argue that one race is more attractive than the other is a waste of time. White women will rarely have fuller buttocks, thick full hair, full lips. However, Asian or black women will rarely have youthful fine blonde hair or youthful blue, green or gray eyes. Again however, blonde hair and blue eyes often looks washed out and infertile. However, blonde hair and blue eyes are generally colors children display, and so the coloring makes adult women look youthful and fertile. This is the psychology behind attraction. Attraction will become less and less important in the future. While we will still be selecting our mates based on attraction, we will be selecting them because of their intelligence, personality, etc. Why? Because now we are smart enough to do so.

True what you say about African American male models, this may be because West African norms, including very black skin, are excessively masculine and percieved negatively as I cited on face shape. However it is my impression that black men are more attractive to white women than black women are to white men. In fact half of cohabiting black men in the UK were doing so with a white woman according to the census of several years ago.

Men emphisize looks for mate selection far more than women tend to. Men with high T. have other ways of getting what they want, which may often make female choice irrelevant.

Please bear in mind that the theory revolves around hoe farming which hugely increased the reproductive fitness of men with higher Testosterone (and prenatal testosteronisation). The African Pygmy today is closer to representing the original (ancestral of black Africans) population before the advent of hoe farming made poligmy practicable and led to an increase in stature among other things. It is surprising to me that you should bring forward evidence of the surviving Bambuti and San not being poligamous to contradict his theory; this is what Frost's theory predicts. I have already posted a link to information on the Irish Y-chromosome (Swedish women comment) The Irish are generally acepted to be closely related to Basques so the data are not out of line with my argument and in fact less than the Irish Y-chromosome data which I linked to in the above-mentioned comment. Refresh your memory and look at the maps on the older part of Dr. Frost's site (not the blog the other part) then if you bear in mind the time and place that this selection is theorised to have taken place I beleive a rethink of objections will be in order. Populations on in the Franco-Cantabrian area did not experience the full steppe-tundra conditions. Where would we expect to find a population that did, well

The issue of high prenatal testosteronisation, viz low and extremely low finger ratios in Swedish and Finnish men respectively is now addressed. The two populations a rather different, both in appearance and genetical data, though they live next to one another Finns are sometimes described as a good example of a certain "subrace", and it is not the Nordic, they are Slavs. I believe Sweden is an extremely cold place, and Finland is an even more extremely cold place. The finger ratios agree with the coldness of the country therefore I concude that the low finger ratios of Swedish men have been brought about by the conditions the have adapted to since leaving the steppe-tundra area several thousand years ago. If prenatal testosteronisation reduces immunity as Prof. Manning says lack of infectious disease may have played a part, number or ofspring is said to be higher for low finger ratios so pressure to decrease them may have become stronger in Sweden far to the North of where the relaxed sexual selection of men and several thousands of years is plenty of time for ratios change to take place for whatever the reason.

dontworryaboutit: Have you bothered to read enough of this site before leaving your comment? Where have I said that a woman is a man if she has “a little more testosterone”? Have I said anything implying that masculinized women are incapable of giving birth? I have mentioned slight masculinization in women as a correlate of their sexiness to men, and hence have not implied that men have no interest in masculinization in women, period.

If you think I am using the worst pictures of fashion models then come up with better pictures that reveal their face and body shape in a clear manner. “Worst pictures” on my part had better not be pictures doing a good job at revealing shape.

I have not said anything about the necessity of having large breasts. Plenty of attractive women shown within this site have small breasts.

There is a need to discuss what people find attractive in women in some detail. This is necessary or else it would be one’s personal preference vs. another’s and subjective arguments throughout. If most people share a similar notion of attractiveness, then it is worth it to discuss what it is and what makes people differ in their preferences.

I have long argued that it is not possible to objectively compare the attractiveness of people from different geographic populations. So fullness of lips and of buttocks, for instance, should be judged within groups, and there is plenty of variation within groups on these counts. Hence, your points about ethnicity are completely irrelevant and mostly absurd. Those attracted to blond hair in women are not attracted to it because it suggests child-like youth. Seriously, people are not foolish enough to attempt to judge fertility and youth by looking at hair color rather than the other readily assessed and informative features such as skin texture/wrinkles and body shape variables. Speaking of thick hair, Northern Europeans (except redheads) have more individual hairs on their scalp than other populations, on average, and so even if the hairs are finer, the amount of hair is plentiful. A raised nose bridge is not more masculine unless masculinization is responsible for why it is raised. If you believe that brown eyes look less youthful or brighter, this is your own opinion. Brighter means reflecting more light, and lighter colors reflect more light. Even the sclera (white region of the eye) is lighter in Europeans than in many populations, especially several African ones.

Intelligence and personality are long-standing criteria for mate selection.

You must make an effort to read enough of this site before leaving criticism, and address the arguments not assumed characteristics of mine. I am neither a woman (hence not a lonely fat girl) nor a middle-aged man or a man with any other feature you have mentioned.

Honestly, what is the point of this website? You try to tell women how they should look? I agree the fashion industry is messed up. Fashion models are too thin, they look frail and unhealthy and that is very unattractive. However, you are doing the exact same thing as the fashion industry by trying to define what beauty is by posting on this website. In all honesty you have no idea what beauty is. The fashion industry doesn't capture the idea of beauty, but you don't have a clue about it either. This whole website is aimed at trying to define what is ATTRACTIVE. However, beauty and attraction are two different things. Any dumb animal knows what it is attracted to. What we are attracted to is generally hard wired into our brains. Male and female brains are wired differently, therefore they are attracted to different things. Anyways, if a dumb animal knows what it is attracted to, then why do I need you to tell me what I should be attracted to? I know what I am attracted to! I don't need the fashion industry or you to tell me what I should find attractive in a woman. Now beauty is totally different. Like I said, it takes logic and an evolved mind to understand the concept of beauty, which is entirely different than the concept of attraction. So stop using the word "beauty" anywhere on this website because it has nothing to do with beauty. This website is based on the primitive concept of attraction. If you want to learn about beauty go study some philosiphy, art, etc. Then you can make references to it and use the word on your website. If you think feminine characteristics are beautiful that's great. However, don't criticize and analyze every part of a woman's body and find fault with something that is against your idea of an "ideal woman". This is disturbing and unhealthy. Women come in all shapes and sizes and are beautiful. Some are taller, thinner, more masculine, or more feminine. So what? If men are attracted to Victoria's Secret models what is the problem? They know what they are attracted to. If you are suggesting that homosexual men in the industry are brainwashing straight men... well... just listen to how that sounds? Yes images in the fashion industry affect us. However, I like Victoria's secret models because they are curvy, tall, lean, and leggy all at the same time. I am not attracted to high fashion models. Also, I am not particularly attracted to one race or the other. If a woman is attractive she is attractive period. Nothing to do with race. I have seen attractive women of all races. I still don't get the point of this website. To tell me what is feminine and that I should like feminine women? Well, I know what I like and why I like it and I don't see why so much effort goes into something that takes little brain activity to understand. Like I said what we are attracted to is hardwired into are brains!

By the way Eric, women are known for high and well defined cheekbones. Not men. This is due to the fact that they tend to go towards the brachycephalic end of the cephalic index. In any race the average woman will generally be more brachycephalic than the average man. Therefore high cheekbones and well defined cheekbones are a well known characteristic of women. Also, this is something that is attractive to men. Yes, the cheekbones of high fashion models stick out too much and are too well defined. However, this is only because they are soo thin. In general though well defined cheekbones are attractive.

Here is the study:

Notice that the more attractive woman has um... HIGHER CHEEKBONES!

This was a scientific study, not just made up opinions.

Oh and you mention Cindy Crawford's broad shoulders on your website. Well, I love a woman with an athletic figure, and no that does not make me gay. That makes me look for a STRONG mate. Now I agree that a woman should never have extremely broad shoulders or look as athletic as a man. I like women that are soft and feminine, but at the same time athletic. This is the ideal woman for me. Cindy Crawford has amazing shoulders. Besides, full breasts need to be supported by a larger upper body. Full breasts are an extremely feminine characteristic and uh... generally the shoulders are broader as the breasts are bigger. Big breasts need to be supported. They don't just pop out of someone's chest. Full breasts with little support are called saggy breasts. Cindy Crawford has full perky breasts. Men will go for a woman with generally feminine features, however, athletic features are very desirable in a woman. Maybe you are just intimidated by beautiful,feminine,smart, and athletic women who have all these features in one.

If you're not attracted to that there is something wrong with you.

some of your "feminine" glamour models on here are just nasty by the way.

Please don't claim that this website is not about telling women how they should look. You may not realize it, but honestly look at your website! If you are just trying to show everyone that healthy is attractive and fashion models are thin, unhealthy, and therefore unattractive, you are not accomplishing your goal! You are going about it the wrong way. It's just a gross website. It makes me sick.

dontworryaboutit: The point of this site is explained in the FAQ, where it is clearly explained how this site is not doing the same thing as the fashion industry except for having different standards.

I am not defining attractive but explaining what different people find attractive in women, and this is necessary to understand how fashion model norms can be so different from most people’s preferences. Attractiveness and beauty largely capture the same things when applied to human physical appearance, but the beauty term is usually not used for men. Like you, I find the notion of homosexual men in the fashion industry brainwashing straight men absurd, and I have not argued it. And the point of going into some detail about what is attractive is to help promote women – in various mainstream settings – who are closer to what most people find very attractive, not criticize those who lack feminine beauty; read the FAQ for more.

Women are not known for high and well-defined cheekbones as there are plenty of women without this combination and plenty of men with this combination. Masculinization causes a higher placement of the cheekbones on the face, and masculinization and feminization define different parts of the cheekbones. Feminization expands the cheekbones in the cheek area whereas masculinization expands/more powerfully develops the zygomatic arches (part of the cheekbones just beneath the temple). I have cited evidence for these claims whereas you are just giving me your word and citing a German study. Regarding this study, depending on the people used, one can show that higher or lower cheekbones are more attractive in women. The German study also found that more attractive female faces were narrower, whereas another study found that more attractive female faces were wider. Again, you can end up in either direction depending on the participants chosen, but what is the inference? It is well-documented that women’s attractiveness is strongly related to femininity as far as most people are concerned, and hence if you have proper or representative sampling, then female faces of above average attractiveness will be distinguished from less attractive faces by greater femininity on average, i.e., lower cheekbones and wider faces on average. But of course, it would not be difficult to find examples of female faces that are more attractive even though they are narrower or have higher cheekbones. The key here is the overall appearance, and that is what I am considering when I am looking at high-fashion models, not just a single element such as shoulder width.

You mention my bringing up Cindy Crawford’s broad shoulders. This is the not the only thing I have addressed in her. I mentioned Cindy’s muscularity, voluptuousness by the standards of the fashion industry and skeletal masculinization also. Broad shoulders by themselves are of little relevance, and shoulder breadth is of little relevance to supporting large breasts. You cited a picture of her where it is difficult to judge how feminine she is, and if that were the only picture I saw of Cindy Crawford them my first impression would be that she is a sexy woman and I need to get to see more of her. But a quick search would reveal excessive masculinization (example, the face of Cindy Crawford) and it appears that in pictures where she looks more feminine we are looking at some combination of posing tricks/concealment and airbrushing/digital editing.

You think I am telling women how they should look? If so, why should you or anyone care? Who am I for anyone to care? And, what is the point of my telling women how they should look? If I am saying this is how your backside should be, what are women who don’t have this backside – and most won’t – going to do about it? This website does address some ways of enhancing attractiveness, but it is for those who are interested; there are no obligations.

Discussing the nature’s of women’s attractiveness or what different groups of people find attractive is not the same as specifying how one should look. If you are sickened by the grossness of this site, please go here and stay away from this site.

I care because it scares the shit out of any straight man when someone claims that all the women he has been attracted to his whole life are "masculine" or manly. Like Cindy Crawford. I always thought she was really hot! Even after you sent me that picture of her supposedly "manly" face, I was still attracted to her! Is something wrong with me? So please understand that I will naturally get very defensive and try to argue with you. It's very hard to argue with you by the way. You are very intelligent and you know how to make a good point. I still don't agree with you 100% on everything. I also still think you should present your work in a little bit of a different manner. I still wonder... why spend so much time on a website like this? Just out of curiousity what does this have to do with you? Is it just a hobby? I mean I go on here because a while ago I accidentally found it, I don't even remember how. Anyways, I looked at it and it scared me because it seems I find the masculine and feminine women very attractive. That made me angry because in an indirect way it seemed to suggest to me that I am attracted to masculinity. That's hard on a guy. Oh, and I appreciate your link to the Disney Land website, but I'm a little too old for it thank you!
Niger's Dandy Gerewol festival (Times Online) Female mate choice by derived looks "His nose (should be) fine and long" in West Africa. Yes Wodaabe are a good example of female preference for fine features in men altering the physique of a people. Selection of males that may explain some other sub Saharan peoples where fine features are common like Zulus so in principle it could apply to european gracilization.

Erik is dead-wrong in saying anime characters have facial shapes shifted more towards european norms. Anime characters, the majority of the time, have round faces with straight sides that taper in a point. This is a good example:

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