Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Facial Aesthetics: Implications for Art.

Now a break from battling Natsoc entryists.

An important scientific paper with regard to aesthetics was published the other day which received widespread mainstream press.

Individual Aesthetic Preferences for Faces are Shaped Mostly by Environments, Not Genes.

The media spin put on this paper was to the effect that the perceptions of attraction were largely an effect of the environment and not genetics. I thought the paper interesting and managed to find a free copy of it from one of the authors' website which appears to be publicly available. It's a very well constructed study, and certainly don't want to argue with the data obtained, though I feel that the authors may have erred on interpretation of the data.

I've reproduced one of the tables below (On fair use grounds) and want to delve into the data presented a bit further.



If we look at B and C we see that there is a remarkable consistency between men and women with regard to rating the attractiveness of faces.  Women who are rated a "5" on the scale by men are very likely to rate a "5" on the scale by other women. This finding confirms previous research--(Google Scholar is your friend)--and strongly suggests that there is a genetic mechanism which rates facial attractiveness in part.

The study showed that 48% of our assessment of facial attractiveness is under genetic control, the remain 52% being attributable-by the authors--to environment.  The authors therefore conclude, on the basis of mathematical weighting that the environment is a more important determinant in the assessment of attractiveness. Logically, that is a perfectly sensible conclusion and yet it is not.

The really interesting data from this study are represented by the graphs D and E which show the individual variations in the assessment of facial attractiveness compared to the mean. What's interesting here, is that even your typical low agreement participant demonstrates a rating schema that is reasonably correlated with the mean ratings. Whist the variation is large the direction is still the same. Attractive faces as still more likely to be rated attractively than unattractive ones regardless of environment consideration. (Table E) In other words, that 48% is exerting a lot of influence.

What appears to be happening is that genetics seem to automatically rank faces in terms of attractiveness and that environment-or other factors-shift people in either direction from that ranking. In other words, that 48% determines where you sit on the rankings in the first place with other factors modifying that initial assessment.  A face that has a mean rating of "1" is not going to be turned into a "7" even though environment has a greater "mathematical" influence.

What I find fascinating is the fact that the mind has a "hard wired" aesthetic response to facial stimulus. In other words, ideals of facial beauty are already hard coded into our DNA. And it appears that there other aesthetic preferences hard coded as well. The point of this is that these current findings point us towards looking at the subject of aesthetics from an empirical perspective as opposed to a philosophical one. What is beautiful becomes not a question of philosophical speculation but rather observing what the brain does in response to a stimulus. Beauty becomes a stimulus which is capable of exciting the appropriate neural circuitry.

One of the reasons why this shift in approach is important is because a large amount of modern artistic and architectural rubbish is justified on the assumption that beauty is purely subjective. What modern neuroaesthetics is discovering is that there is a fair amount of hard wired responses to visual stimuli and that these responses are objective.  The ugliness of most modern art is not a subjective experience but an observable physiological response.  Judging art by this metric changes the grounds of debate and undercuts many of the principals of modernism and modern art.

18 comments:

Lagu Indonesia Terbaru said...
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Nick B Steves said...

First, r=0.99 between men and women's rankings is very hard to believe. I don't even think a single individual's rankings would be that highly correlated over multiple ranking exercises. Mine certainly would not. Unless I've misunderstood the experiment (which I acknowledge is totally possible), that seems very fishy.

Second, why do we chalk up agreement to genetics and lack of agreement to environment? It seems just as likely to be the other way around. The least agreeable ranker might very well have been "born that way". All the agreeers may be more heavily influenced by socially enforced norms. Either way, it seems impossible to tease these two effects apart from the data. (Again, unless I've misunderstood something... which... wouldn't be the first time.)

And oh yes. Glad to see a change of topic.

The Social Pathologist said...

Unless I've misunderstood the experiment (which I acknowledge is totally possible), that seems very fishy.

Nah, I think it totally reasonable since they were correlates with regard to the average score of the faces.

I think the study quite strongly constructed. If monozygous twins rate the same woman differently then clearly there is some difference present in the assessment mechanism. If assessment is solely genetically driven their should be no difference in assessment.

Dizygous twins share the same environment but their genetics are different, therefore comparing the variation in assessment between the two is a comparison of the variation in genetic influence which was found to be small. The authors therefore attributed the variation to environment.

Now I agree with you, the effect was attributed to environment by default. The environmental hypothesis wasn't specifically tested so the attribution to environment was a reasonable assumption. We don't know a lot about brain wiring and its quite possible that even amognst twins there may be may be a mechanism such akin to Somatic hypermutation at play even amongst individuals of identical genetic makeup.

But from my point of view this is irrelevant. What I find fascinating is that brain has a prototype of beauty already wired into itself. DNA doesn't just code for protein expression but it also codes for aesthetic preferences. We are effectively born with "default" settings. There's is effectively an "Operating System" coded into our DNA.

And oh yes. Glad to see a change of topic.

Don't be too glad. This stuff is very relevant to the subject of identity and group cohesion. Hence the evil race stuff must be revisited.

John rockwell said...

You may also find the link between sexual dimorphism and symmetry to be pertinent. Since they both in combination result in beauty. They also appear to be indicators of biological quality especially the quality of symmetry:
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0002106

mdavid said...

SP, What I find fascinating is that brain has a prototype of beauty already wired into itself. DNA doesn't just code for protein expression but it also codes for aesthetic preferences. We are effectively born with "default" settings. There's is effectively an "Operating System" coded into our DNA.

I don't get why this is that interesting at all (besides basic curiosity). We are clearly hard coded for much (to breath, eat, walk, talk) but with some flexibility built in due to our rapid genetic change (we ain't alligators having nearly perfected DNA for a specific environment but more like beetles, shifting to every possible worldwide environment as needed). So we are our own greatest competition and change agent and thus need that 50% environmental effect.

There really are few other potential ratios than 50/50 for a "learning" species like humans. Unlike chimps (a flower of genetic diversity so anything is possible) Homo Sapiens DNA is a straight line due to massive DNA extinction events (e.g., non-competing versions of human get killed off real fast). So human sexual selection clearly demands more flexibility to account for rapid environmental changes of our own making. We ain't alligators (millions of years of genetic stagnation) nor chimps where outside threats and physical environs have a large effect. Our species has become our own largest force for genetic change, and our sexual selection needs to shift rapidly as well.

And the ratio - about 50/50, seems about right to me for our current human evolutionary situation where sexual selection, not resources, dominate. I would have prob guessed 60/40 hard-code/flexible...but the study is not exactly precise anyway (reporting wouldn't exactly match what one would really bed push come to shove!) so I still lean to 60/40. This ain't physics and is pretty gray.

The really interesting data from this study are represented by the graphs D and E which show the individual variations in the assessment of facial attractiveness compared to the mean. What's interesting here, is that even your typical low agreement participant demonstrates a rating schema that is reasonably correlated with the mean ratings. Whist the variation is large the direction is still the same. Attractive faces as still more likely to be rated attractively than unattractive ones regardless of environment consideration. (Table E) In other words, that 48% is exerting a lot of influence.

I agree this is the most interesting finding here. But again it's not very interesting since it's exactly what we would expect. Like breathing or heartbeat the mind provides us with a "norm" that can be changed as required by circumstance. Just common sense. Were I building a genetic car, that's how I'd build it.

The Social Pathologist said...

@mdavid

I don't get why this is that interesting at all (besides basic curiosity). We are clearly hard coded for much (to breath, eat, walk, talk) but with some flexibility built in due to our rapid genetic change

I think it's very interesting since a lot of this "pre-wired" stuff seems to involve higher order intellectual functioning, not just "simple" biological/physiological responses. Discussions of art, at least those which involve a human dimension to it, stop being abstract issues about "what" art should but instead can evaluated on the response art elicits int he human person. The fact that people "respond" to art in a certain way undercuts the modernist assumption that "art" is a cognitive exercise but needs also to be seen as a physiological response. Shitty art makes us "feel" bad, it's visually "unergonomic". Deliberate ugliness in art will induce a negative response in the public, therefore does how does this type of get art justified public domain?


A lot of modern art, and social engineering, is premised on the blank slate theory of human nature, this type of research undercuts the blank slate theory at its foundations.

The Social Pathologist said...

@John,

I'm aware of the research. Thanks for commenting.

mdavid said...

SP, I think I get you now. I forget there are blank slate types around anymore. Flat-earth vintage stuff. It does get more interesting in this context though.

I always blandly assumed art mirrored the "good" of nature. Without an agenda I tend to grab the simple solution. Hell, just the fact that blonds (bananas) and redheads (oranges) evolved where most of the human Y-chroms mutated since leaving Africa (in sexually competitive Europe) forces me to assume art/beauty is biologically driven. Without any proof (again) I just assumed modernist art is sin-driven, getting a thrill from telling God/Darwin to take a hike. Exciting because it's ugly and deathly. I don't think animals, without sin, would get it.

But I confess I just take the Occam's Razor approach and wouldn't be surprised to be wrong. When I studied evolution before the genome was broken I was very very skeptical at biological just-so stories, then felt pretty stupid when the fossil records, language trees, etc. were proven to be accurate to a fault.

The Social Pathologist said...

@mDavid

forces me to assume art/beauty is biologically driven.

The terms of debate change once you assume that this may be the case. The goodness or badness of art, architecture and design etc, is judged in its relation to the human physiological response, not simply its cognitive dimension.

One of the interesting things is the way people approach art. Specialists tend to analyse the work while non specialists tend to respond to it.

I like to use the example of Otto Dix. I found his work profoundly disturbing and hated it when I first saw it. But now, given that I have a reasonable understanding of German interwar history but I think his artwork is brilliant. The works still exert a "noxious" response, but when you realise that he was conveying the disgust and corruption of German society at the time, you realise that his works are powerful pieces of social criticism, only fully appreciated by people who get what he is getting at. The average man is not though. All he see's is obnoxious imagary which makes no sense at all without an understanding of the social context in which it was made.

His "art" then is only really for a specialised audience. Telling the rubes that they are just that because they don't "get it" and can't recognise the intrinsic "beauty" beauty of the work is a denial of the legitimacy of the their response to it. It's anti human.

Oh and another thing, discussing beauty simply in terms of it's moral dimension sidelines the whole physiological response element of it completely. Art become "good" or "bad" depending on how good it conforms to religious doctrine irrespective of the physiological response it produces. Lots of modern Crucifixes induce a nausea in me. Even though they're morally Ok.

Rhetocrates said...

The study suffers from another, deeper problem that I suspect is likely to make it rubbish (though I haven't read it). They've taken numbers and used them as labels, but then turned around and treated them as numbers again. You can't do that.

If I say once face is a 3, and another face is a 6, that doesn't mean I think the latter face is twice as attractive as the first face. 'Attractiveness' is not a mathematical quality; it admits of more or less, but not ratio. Therefore any mathematical manipulation of the labels is meaningless and deceptive.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Rhetocrates

You're new here aren't you?

f I say once face is a 3, and another face is a 6, that doesn't mean I think the latter face is twice as attractive as the first face. 'Attractiveness' is not a mathematical quality;

The manosphere disagrees with you. The 1-10 metric is fairly well established.

Rhetocrates said...

"You're new here aren't you?"

I am, thanks for noticing! Mid-term reader, only recently a commenter.

"The manosphere disagrees with you. The 1-10 metric is fairly well established."

You seem to have misunderstood me. I'm not disagreeing with the veracity of the scale. In fact, I agree that the scale is pretty well established. The problem is that the thing that the scale measures is not mathematical. It admits of more or less, but not ratio.

To give an analogy, think of the Mohs hardness scale. Talc is a 1. Calcite is a 3. However, this doesn't mean that calcite is somehow 'three times harder' than talc; indeed, that idea is nonsensical. Instead, what it means is that when you rub talc and calcite together, the talc comes away scratched and the calcite doesn't. It also means that when you rub gypsum and calcite together, the gypsum comes away scratched and the calcite doesn't. So you can say calcite is 'more hard' than either of those two, but you can't say 'how much harder'.

The technical term here is that the scale is ordinal, not rational.(You might make the claim that these are actually interval values, but I'm skeptical. Even if granted, it doesn't matter to the argument.)

To make the matter even clearer, we can relabel the quanta of the 1-10 scale of hotness: make them levels a-j. The scale still works perfectly, but it becomes obvious that a 'b' is not 'half as attractive' as an 'f'.

The Social Pathologist said...

@
Rhetocrates

I'm intrigued by your notion that facial beauty is ordinal instead of rational. Why so?
There are clear degrees between ugly and beauty, not quanta.

Rhetocrates said...

I'm not sure how I can be clearer. You can't do math with beauty. You can say something is more or less beautiful than something else, but you can't add three beauties to five beauties and get eight beauties, or divide five beauties in half to get two-and-a-half beauties.

Can you take the traits of an eight on the facial scale, add in the traits of a two, and end up with a ten? Or with a four? No.

mdavid said...

Rhet, ...the scale measures is not mathematical

I think you mean "not linear". Any scale, by definition, is mathematical.

Of course the hotness scale (while fairly accurate) is not perfectly linear. Beauty is a proxy for fertility, so the 6-8 gets weighted a little heavier. The upper norm can get the job done without the risk of the unusual. Probably the origin of the beauty spot on a perfect 10...

mdavid said...

SP, The goodness or badness of art, architecture and design etc, is judged in its relation to the human physiological response, not simply its cognitive dimension.

I like the Dix example. But one can tell by his work he is not glorifying sin but showing what it really looks like with the mask off. I don't like him much because the dose is too big. Artists like Dix are cursed point and scream. They can't help it, the art is inside them.

My favorite example of this is the movie "In the Bedroom". I've even read a review by a RC priest who didn't "get" the moral dimension.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Rheto

I get you point now, but I think we're both alluding to the same thing. Two "3's" do not make a "6", that's why the "common" 50% of the assessment, in my opinion, exerts a greater effect than the "individualistic" 50%.

@mdavid

Haven't seen "In the Bedroom" but will have to take a look at it. Dix is "full on" but given the moral mess that Germany was in, post WW1, he seems appropriate.

Rhetocrates said...

mdavid said... "I think you mean "not linear". Any scale, by definition, is mathematical."

No, it isn't. That's the point. Mathematical objects, viz. numbers, admit of ratio. Not all scales do this. I gave several examples above. True, I used linear examples, but that's only because they're the easiest to grasp. You can count by geometric progression or logarithmic progression if you like; the ratio of e^2:e^4 still has a specific and defined value which admits of operation.

@SP

Common vs. individual just shows the reliability of the scale (or, at least, it does with proper statistical analysis). It still doesn't show you a how-much-more-ness. There is no ratio between a 3 and a 6, so you can't treat them as mathematical objects. The ratio isn't a 2. The ratio isn't a 2^x. The ratio isn't anything else.