The more "average" you are, the more attractive?
March 22, 2010 8:51 PM   Subscribe

In what popular magazine did I first read about the 1990 study "Attractive faces are only average" (I think that was it)?

I'm looking for the popular/mainstream magazine that showcased this famous facial beauty study on the cover. At least, I remember seeing a bunch of various, gradually altered faces tiled neatly over the entire cover. I'm fairly certain that the actual study discussed was the 1990 "Attractive faces are only average" by Langlois and Roggman from the University of Texas, and while I have access to the the study itself, I would still like to know the mainstream media in which it was cited.

I'm also aware that other facial beauty studies have come after that refute/support/expand, but I liked that one just to basically counter euphemisms like "S/he's pretty average" when someone really means "S/he's not attractive at all," and I'd like to share the general study premise to my friends who can't read scientific papers. The Wiki article is just a little bland.

(Isn't there a related study that talks about androgynous faces as another type of "average" beauty? Or this is just something else entirely.)

posted by Ky to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is this Newseweek article the one you're thinking of? It was from 1996 so perhaps a bit late.
posted by nat at 9:12 PM on March 22, 2010

nat: That could be fair game since it does mention Langlois and discuss "averageness" more generally and was still in the '90s. I'll have to check at the college library, but thanks for the hit either way!
posted by Ky at 9:26 PM on March 22, 2010

I think that this is what study that the magazine story was probably about, from 1991.

Or perhaps the cover was this

I do remember seeing something about this as well, from the magazines that I subscribed to at the time, which were I think OMNI and Discover, but I can't seem to find anything from either of those.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:31 PM on March 22, 2010

Threeway: Thanks for the additional study source. They're all right around the same time period to boot... The Nature cover is very much like what I'm remembering (and my memory is fuzzy), so I'll also check that out too, although I don't think my family ever subscribed to that one...
posted by Ky at 9:53 PM on March 22, 2010

I swear I saw this in TIME Magazine, some time in my middle school years, which would have been the mid to late 90s. But a cursory search through their archives doesn't seem to produce the right match. I remember the mosaic cover and the blending of faces from different countries to produce averages, which were generally rated as more beautiful than the individual faces. Other magazines we would get at the time were National Geographic, the Washington Post Magazine, and Popular Science, but for some reason I remember it being TIME.
posted by Mizu at 2:31 AM on March 23, 2010

NYT Magazine, 1994? The last paragraph says: "Photos: In the eyes of a study's beholders, the most beautiful face was the one at right, produced by exaggerating the features of the composite of the 15 faces found to be most attractive among a choice of 60. At left was a composite of the average features of the 60 choices offered. (Dr. David I. Perrett/University of St. Andrews/Nature Magazine)."
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:44 AM on March 23, 2010

I think I remember reading about this study at the time in an issue of cosmopolitan.

Also, slight derail: I think it's a little disingenuous to try to use this study to contradict your friends usage of "s/he's average looking." It's pretty clear that they are saying "If we ranked all people by attractiveness, this person would fall near the middle of the curve" and not "That person's features are a mathematical average of all features."
posted by 256 at 8:30 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mizu: I could've sworn it was something like TIME as well. This cover certainly fits the bill in general, though the article premise isn't what I'm thinking...

256: Not at all. I'm lucky that my circle of friends are progressive-thinking about deep sociocultural issues and talk about these sorts of assumptions and twists all the time, such as the difference between sex/gender and the gender "education" parents do without realizing upon their kids' moment of birth. Without discussion, there'd be no social progress at all.

I just wish it were easier to search magazine cover archives. TIME's search engine has it right, though.
posted by Ky at 9:15 AM on March 23, 2010

(To clarify--I know there's a difference in meaning between the two usages of "average" there, but it's a great way to bring up the topic. :D)
posted by Ky at 11:50 AM on March 23, 2010

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