Self-resemblance and attractiveness

Is Beauty in the Face of the Beholder?
Opposing forces influence assortative mating so that one seeks a similar mate while at the same time avoiding inbreeding with close relatives. Thus, mate choice may be a balancing of phenotypic similarity and dissimilarity between partners. In the present study, we assessed the role of resemblance to Self’s facial traits in judgments of physical attractiveness. Participants chose the most attractive face image of their romantic partner among several variants, where the faces were morphed so as to include only 22% of another face. Participants distinctly preferred a “Self-based morph” (i.e., their partner’s face with a small amount of Self’s face blended into it) to other morphed images. The Self-based morph was also preferred to the morph of their partner’s face blended with the partner’s same-sex “prototype”, although the latter face was (“objectively”) judged more attractive by other individuals. When ranking morphs differing in level of amalgamation (i.e., 11% vs. 22% vs. 33%) of another face, the 22% was chosen consistently as the preferred morph and, in particular, when Self was blended in the partner’s face. A forced-choice signal-detection paradigm showed that the effect of self-resemblance operated at an unconscious level, since the same participants were unable to detect the presence of their own faces in the above morphs. We concluded that individuals, if given the opportunity, seek to promote “positive assortment” for Self’s phenotype, especially when the level of similarity approaches an optimal point that is similar to Self without causing a conscious acknowledgment of the similarity. [. . .]

Current psychological research on human attractiveness has replaced the relativistic belief that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” with a universalistic one. [. . .]

However, the opposition between the relativistic and the universalistic perspectives may only be apparent, since one can posit the coexistence of an early, developmental, “imprinting” for physical traits of close con-specifics (typically, family members but also Self) as another universal mechanism that accounts for kin recognition as well as having an impact on mating preferences [5]. Indeed, face recognition mechanisms are heritable [6] and humans may be born with a schematic knowledge of the human face, which is then modified or filled out through exposure to human faces early in life. Thus, on one hand, a facial attribute like averageness would be based on a lifetime exposure to a large number of other con-specifics [7], so that one would expect that individuals within the same social group would tend to share a very similar (or seemingly “universal”) sense of what is the human average appearance. On the other hand, an imprinting mechanism, based on early experience, would lead to the opposite effect of establishing idiosyncratic “ideals” of beauty that may differ considerably between individuals. Thus, the coexistence of general learning mechanisms and mechanisms of kin recognition should shape ideals of facial (or bodily) aesthetics that are to a great deal consistent across many individuals but contain some elements that are unique to each individual.