Thursday, June 10, 2010

An interesting finding ...

Y-axis: Mean attractiveness rating
X-axis: Black faces, Mixed-Race faces, White faces
Top curve – ratings by female students
Bottom curve – ratings by male students (Lewis, 2010)

A random sample of 1205 black, white, and mixed-race faces was collected. These faces were then rated for their perceived attractiveness. There was a small but highly significant effect, with mixed-race faces, on average, being perceived as more attractive (Lewis, 2010).

This study has attracted much notice in the media and on the Internet. When photos of black, white, and mixed-race faces were shown to twenty white psychology students from Cardiff University in Wales, the mixed-race faces were considered to be better-looking than either black or white faces. This finding, the author went on to argue, shows the benefits of hybrid vigor.

Actually, it’s doubtful whether this study proves much about hybrid vigor. There are negative effects from mating with close kin (‘inbreeding depression’), but these effects decrease exponentially with increasing genetic distance. Marrying a !Kung provides just a bit more benefit than not marrying your second cousin.

But something else is questionable about this study. The male students rated the black faces more highly than the white faces. This is an interesting finding—just as interesting as the one that the author chose to underscore. After all, British culture has long stigmatized blacks as the antithesis of beauty. In a history of American race relations, Winthrop Jordan (1968, pp. 8-9) notes:

Whiteness, moreover, carried a special significance for Elizabethan Englishmen: it was, particularly when complemented by red, the color of perfect human beauty, especially female beauty. This ideal was already centuries old in Elizabeth’s time, and their fair Queen was its very embodiment: her cheeks were “roses in a bed of lilies.” [...] It was important, if incalculably so, that English discove­ry of Black Africans came at a time when the accep­ted standard of ideal beauty was a fair complexion of rose and white. Negroes not only failed to fit this ideal but seemed the very picture of perverse negation. (Jordan, 1968, pp. 8-9)

Of course, that was then and this is now. But even today black women are underrepresented as icons of beauty in men’s magazines:

More than 70 percent of professional athletes are African American, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the latest issue of Sport’s Illustrated’s much ballyhooed swimsuit issue.

The 184-page issue, the magazine’s most profitable, boasts 18 models, but only two are African American and you won’t see them until page 140.

[…] African-American models like Iman and Naomi Campbell broke through the race barrier long ago in fashion, but the under representation of minorities in modeling continues to be a contentious issue to this day.

In 2008,
The Wall Street Journal did a major feature on the problem, noting what it called the “Thin White Line” in fashion.

Well, perhaps psychology majors at Cardiff University have different notions of female beauty.

Or perhaps they were just fibbing.


Anon. (2010). Sports Illustrated sends blacks to back of book, The Improper, February 14th, 2010

Jordan, W. (1968). White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro 1550-1812. Williamsburg: University of North Carolina Press.

Lewis, M.B. (2010). Why are mixed-race people perceived as more attractive? Perception, 39, 136 –138


Anonymous said...

Were the male students rating only female pictures?

ben10 said...

yes, were they rating the opposite sex ?

If yes, the case for men rating women is bordeline a flat curve and beside, student boys in psychology rating girls ? why not the Cardif rugby team instead of psychology students?

Peter Frost said...

There were female and male pictures. The author doesn't give a breakdown of preferences by sex of facial photo(which would have been an interesting variable to include):

"In total, 1205 male and
female faces were collected by two research assistants naive to the hypothesis regarding
attractiveness. Twenty white psychology students rated each face on its attractiveness
on a 9-point scale (5 being of average attractiveness).

Ben10 said...

Not from 'psychology student of Cardif' but from an arab traveler of year 912 CE, Massoudi, or Maçoudi, about some indian women:
"...Les femmes de ce pays sont les plus gracieuses, les plus belles et les plus blanches de l'Inde ; elles sont recherchées dans les harems, et il en est question dans tous les livres érotiques ; aussi les marins, qui savent tout ce que valent ces femmes qu'on nomme Tafiniyat, tiennent-ils beaucoup à s'en procurer à quelque prix que ce soit...."

Chapter XVI, tome 1 at

Tod said...

The entertainment industry coats it's female celebrities in bronzer before photographing them, the typical young woman trying to be considered attractive such as those going to clubs, tend to copy that look.

I once read (in an article about Janice Joplin) that in Eisenhower's America a woman who didn't wear make-up would have been regarded as plain even if she was truly beautiful; whether or not some mental algorithm favors darker skin a lack of tanning is going to be taken as an indication of what are - from a young men's viewpoint - negative personality traits.

I wonder if the men rated the whites as a group lower because some of them were pale and were perceived as serious and introverted. There may be a sour grapes effect with those seen as less open to sexual advances being rated as unattractive in consequence. Mixed race females would all have an approximation of the fun loving bronzer coated white girl hence as a group they would be more highly rated

DR said...

Higher mixed race attractiveness might be due to selection bias. Since women don't normally prefer to date outside their race it's likely that if they do it's for a high status male (who also probably has good genes). And if it's someone that a high status male is going to date it's probably an attractive female.

So it's possible this has nothing to do with hybrid vigor and all to do with the attractiveness of mixed-race couples (and hence their children).

Peter Frost said...

Tod, DR,

Again, the whole study seems questionable because the white male participants gave a higher rating to the black faces than to the white faces. To me, that suggests overcompensation: the participants wanted to be unbiased and ended up leaning too much in the other direction.

Without overcompensation, the mixed-race faces would have probably had an intermediate rating. Since the participants were afraid of bias against all non-white faces, overcompensation would have made the mixed-race faces the most highly rated ones.

Sagat said...

Twenty white psychology students are hardly representative of the general population. I'm surprised anyone would give credence to such an obviously biased study. I remember seeing the results of this study published some months back in the UK Daily Mail, which I would hardly call a scientific journal. Seems like pure propaganda to me.

Tod said...

Antiracist overcompensation would be strongest for black faces. Are you suggesting mixed race faces were highest rated due to a combination of genuine attractiveness and being dark enough to make the subjects give additional guilty overratings?

Ben10 said...

That psychic students just behave like 2 years old is scarry.
Unless they are overweighted ?

Peter Frost said...


Yes, I think mixed-race individuals benefit from a "double advantage."

We see this in the fashion industry. Mixed-race models are socially defined as 'black' or 'non-white', so their presence eases guilty consciences about racist underrepresentation. But they also have a physical appearance that is closer to the white ideal. They thus tend to be overrepresented in relation to black women and to white women.

ben10 said...

Off topic sorry, have you seen the article in archeology about neanderthals hunting lions twice bigger than modern lions.
Beside a courageous soul, could this be an indication that neanderthals used throwing weapons ?
Otherwise, how could they get close enough of a lion to kill it at close range ?

ben10 said...

here's the link for the lions hunter

Peter Frost said...


Neanderthals had wooden spears and hafted spears (stone blade + adhesive + wooden handle). There is no evidence of traps or snares among the Neanderthals.

It's not difficult to kill a large animal if the animal is surrounded by humans on all sides. It's simply a matter of being patient and exploiting the opportunities that arise.

Ben10 said...

"It's not difficult to kill a large animal if the animal is surrounded by humans on all sides. It's simply a matter of being patient and exploiting the opportunities that arise."

Right, a cow maybe, but a lion ?
If 10 men could surround a wild boar with spears, I'd expect to have one dead man and no meat at diner, so a lion, hmmm, the neanderthal boss would have to try hard to convince me to go hunting.

Anyway, the lion is supposed to see, hear and smell the stinky neanderthals well before they come at spear range. It might be possible to approach against the wind, but then the lion can run in the opposite direction. I'd say the neanderthals had some tricks that we don't know and hunting lions make them smarter suddenly.

Silver said...

Peter Frost,

To me, that suggests overcompensation: the participants wanted to be unbiased and ended up leaning too much in the other direction.

In addition, I suspect that there is also a degree of unconscious bias driven by a desire to see 'the other' in the best light. These feelings are genuine -- white men and women who pair themselves with blacks aren't faking their attraction -- but I wonder whether the effect doesn't have its genesis in a sincere desire surmount one's lingering pro-self-kind racial leanings in order to conform to the by now dominant culture's prescription.

Stephen said...

20 universerty phsychology students desparatly try to not be rascist. That is in no way surprising.