DeBruine LM, Jones BC, Unger L, Little AC & Feinberg DR (2007). Dissociating averageness and attractiveness: Attractive faces are not always average. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 33(6): 1420-1430. doi: 10.1037/0096-1523.33.6.1420

Although the Averageness Hypothesis of facial attractiveness proposes that the attractiveness of faces is mostly a consequence of their averageness, one study has shown that caricaturing highly attractive faces makes them mathematically less average but more attractive. Here we systematically test the Averageness Hypothesis in five experiments using both rating and visual adaptation paradigms. Visual adaptation has previously been shown to increase both preferences for previously viewed face types (i.e. attractiveness) and their perceived normality (i.e. averageness). We used a visual adaptation procedure to test whether facial attractiveness is dependent upon faces' proximity to average (Averageness Hypothesis) or their location relative to average along an attractiveness dimension in face space (Contrast Hypothesis). While the typical pattern of change due to visual adaptation was found for judgments of normality, judgments of attractiveness resulted in a very different pattern. The results of our five experiments conclusively support the proposal that there are specific non-average characteristics that are particularly attractive. We discuss important implications for the interpretation of studies using a visual adaptation paradigm to investigate attractiveness.

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