The Science of Attraction: What makes a beautiful face?

It all started as a disagreement one evening. The men ended up vehemently defending their opinion that – yes, Keira Knightley did indeed have an attractive face. The women had a completely different point of view – I won’t repeat what they said, but it wasn’t pleasant (poor Keira).

Does Keira Knightley have an attractive face? Discuss…

How we got so heated about the facial features of Ms Knightley, remains a mystery. But some questions remained: Were the men wrong? Or were the women just jealous? Could there even be a logical reason why  so many men would sell their pet cat to have a date with her? (Of course I wouldn’t – I love my cat too much)…

What makes a Face Attractive?

Be honest now, there’s at least one celebrity that you have a secret crush on. It might be George Clooney or Judi Dench… But why exactly do you find them attractive? Is it well defined features? Clear skin? Nice Eyes? Or is there some mysterious ‘X’ factor…

UPDATE: We ran a podcast on the same subject. You can listen to it here.

Test yourself: Look at these faces, which are the most attractive?

You might think that unique and striking facial features make a someone drop-dead gorgeous – but this image shows that on the most-part they do not! An attractive face is an ‘average’ face: I’d bet that you think the faces on the right are the most attractive – and those faces aren’t even real – the faces on the right are computer generated ‘averages’ of several faces:

The most attractive faces are also the most ‘normal’ for our culture.

But that isn’t quite the whole story. It has been known for many years that the ideal face must also be symmetrical. Take a look at the image below and see if you agree…

Which face has been altered to be more beautiful and symmetrical? Right or Left?

Facial Symmetry and ‘Averageness’ – Why do we find them attractive?

The science behind attraction is a fascinating and well-researched field and some of the most up to date research on facial attraction has come out of Japan in recent years. In 2009, a team from Osaka University tried to work out what the most important factor was for facial beauty. Their conclusion – a perfectly beautiful face needed both symmetry and ‘averageness’!

But why do we get the hots for ‘average’ faces? The theory goes something like this: When choosing a partner to have children with, our natural instincts are to choose a healthy person – A fit and healthy partner is more likely to have ‘good genes’ and so will probably parent a healthy, beautiful and virtuous child.

On some primitive and subconscious level, when we see an unusual face we are programmed to see the person as ‘unhealthy’. This inbuilt prejudice seems to be common to all of us – regardless of culture or creed. We will always tend to prefer a ‘healthier’, more symmetrical and ‘average’ face.

But does a symmetrical face really mean a healthy body?

This controversial theory actually has quite a bit of evidence to back it up! Australian psychologist Gillian Rhodes co-authored  a ground-breaking study that compared facial symmetry with medical records. She discovered that the most beautiful faces actually belonged to people with the cleanest bill of health!

I guess some people have all the luck…

As it happens, men find Keira Knightley attractive because she has a very ‘average’ face.

Feel like you want to encourage a beautiful person today? Tell them they are blessed with fine genetics and good health!
Just try not to mention that they also have rather average and unremarkable face…
Thanks for reading – comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!


Explore More: – Psychology experiments about preferences for faces and voices

Science News – Has a great little summary on the determinants of facial attractiveness (aimed at Kids – so it’s quick and easy to read)

Beauty Check – An excellent site that covers all the science behind different aspects of beauty


Komori, M., Kawamura, S., & Ishihara, S. (2009). Averageness or symmetry: Which is more important for facial attractiveness? Acta Psychologica, 131 (2), 136-142 DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2009.03.008

Rhodes, G. (2001). Do facial averageness and symmetry signal health? Evolution and Human Behavior, 22 (1), 31-46 DOI: 10.1016/S1090-5138(00)00060-X

33 responses to “The Science of Attraction: What makes a beautiful face?”

    • Hi Greggorton84!
      Some chromosomal and genetic disorders result in unusual facial features – and so ‘averageness’ is a crude proxy for the individual’s genetic health. If you check out Rhode’s paper, her discussion is pretty interesting and makes some good suggestions…

      • I think when You Say that Someone has an ‘Average’ Face Because they Have Some Average Features it Confuses the Whole Discussion. I’m Going to Make a Car Analogy and I just Want to Say in Advance that the Human Brain and Body is Much More Complex than a Machine But Anyone Who’s Heard a High End Car Rolling Past them on the Street, Turns, looks and Says ‘Yeah I Know that Car Sounded Nice’ knows that Not All Things are Created Equal. And You Could Say ‘Well, That $75000 Sports Car is Built with the Same Materials as Any Other Car on the Road’ But You Would Be Sadly Mistaken in Your Conclusion that Because they are Built with the Same Ordinary Materials they Must Be the Same. Keira Knightly is A Very Beautiful Woman. She’s So Beautiful that Her Ordinary Figure is Almost an Afterthought for the Millions of Men that Would Sell their life to Spend One Evening in Her Company.

    • Averageness is considered attractive becomes it signals little deviation from a common line of genes that have withstood natural selection and is this prevalent in a group of people. Uncommon features, as aesthetically pleasing as they may be, signal the opposite. For example: Say you’re at the grocery store and you see a box of Cheerios next to a box of exotic looking wheat-flakes. Though the exotic box presents just as, or a more delicious option, you’re most likely going to choose the Cheerios because a) It is recognized in society and is well regarded, and b) You’re familiar to it. You know what you’re going to get, which is a delicious box of cereal! What is interesting is that our definition of ‘average’ or ‘classic’ beauty was based on Western impression of Greek and Roman sculpture, i.e. caucasian people. As the world is becoming a ‘melting pot’ per-say, the definition of ‘average’ is evolving to meet the blending of features from across the world. Our definition of average is trending towards a more global and interracial definition. Isn’t that great? 😀

  1. Wow, awesome, thanks 🙂 I once attempted to study medicine, so always like to keep my finger in the pie…especially for stuff that is useful for trivia nights and impressing girls hahaha

    • Great question ‘moron’! (although I doubt you are actually a moron)

      The male body physique that is seen as most attractive is the V-shaped torso (broad shoulders, muscular chest and slim waist). This is true across all cultures.
      The ideal female body has a ‘Waist to hip ratio’ of 70% – giving a woman the “in and out” curves – and again, this feature is seen as attractive in every culture.

      So unless you happen to live in a part of the world were looking like this is normal – an average body is not seen as particularly attractive.

      Sigh… best get down the gym…

      • but in today’s world doctor this 0.7 waist to hip ratio is possessed by very few percentage of woman.i think this 0.7 waist to hip ratio has extinnct in today’s world even in the healthiest female. so we shudn’t even consider it. its only the effect of media duh

          • The 0.7 waist to hip ratio is not “extinct”. Actually, my ratio is .69 and my figure isn’t anything special. I’m sure it’s more common than you’d think.

      • Not always even if it’s 0.7. If you have an average wist line, this ratio mean you have a too bulky hip as seen in lower body obesity, a more common type of obesity among women in today’s world where obesity is common. So 0.7 is a beauty only if the wist is slim like a ballerina.

  2. Good to have some more ammunition for the Keira Knightley debate – I suspect however that no amount of scientific reasoning will settle this argument!

  3. Good to have some more ammunition for the Keira Knightley debate – I suspect however that no amount of scientific reasoning will settle this argument!

  4. Is it possible that the the cause and effect maybe the other way around? At least for the “averageness”

    As in, we just so happen to find certain features and proportions attractive (combination of culture and genetic programming), and thus people who are closer to the “most attractive face” are more likely to reproduce, which is what makes that become the average.

    And then perhaps being more attractive means more mating options, thus being more likely to procreate with someone who is both “average-looking” and has other indicators of good health, making health and attractiveness go hand in hand.

    Rather than health being the reason that average (as a constant) is attractive (as a variable), it may be that evolution made attractive (as a constant) become the average (as a variable), and attractiveness leads to better health due to better success in mating?

    Just throwing the idea out there. No actual scientific method supporting this, just a teenager exercising his brain 🙂

  5. But Keira does NOT have an average face. She has an unusual almost strange looking jaw, etc.–but the net result is great beauty. I think she is the most beautiful woman i’ve ever seen—but no one i’ve seen looks remotely like her. And mathematically she is not that symmetrical. Jaw is elongated and a slight under bite appearance.

  6. Keira *is* very beautiful, but perhaps what women mean is that they wouldn’t want her figure. I think she is way too thin and I would hate to have her figure. On the other hand, someone like Kelly Brook has a lovely figure AND a lovely face. Perhaps this is what the women meant.

    I am a woman by the way. 🙂

  7. well a symmetrical face tells health..but today’s guys r so freaky about the amount of physical feminity of a woman :D. that doesn’t always correspond to a symm face althou.

  8. BTW-A doctor did a very good job perfecting her nose. Her bridge appears narrower in before and after photos online.
    Maybe more attractive people (on average) are able to obtain more resources to enable better health. Chicken or the egg?

  9. Keira is the most beautiful woman i have ever seen and perhaps the most beautiful woman ever to have existed, maybe with the exception of Natalie Wood. What makes Keira’s beauty incredible is that it’s not a boring sort of beauty like you see with models… facial mathematics which are often similar and run of the mill. Keira has very unique facial features that set her apart and give her a very interesting attractiveness. I dont know about the small group of friends you came to that conclusion with, but she most assuredly does not have an “average face”. Women do hate her though. Has to be jealousy related.. check out all the fantastic experiences Keira has had playing royalty and other very coveted roles while being able to wear the most awesome dresses, etc. God worked extra hard on Keira.

  10. Keira just isn’t that beautiful. Pretty? Yes, but not that stunning. If averages make faces more beautiful then why are faces with larger eyes and lips like Adrianna Lima,Aishwarya rai,or Angelina considered so beautiful?

    • Angelina Jolie is not remotely attractive. She’s really strange looking and that’s after all the plastic surgery. It was worse before. Aishwarya Rai is OK and I’m with you on Adrianna Lima being beautiful. As far as large eyes and lips it’s all about proportion ie Angelina’s look ridiculous.

  11. Butt….butt…butt No one in my family thinks that Kiera Knightly is attractive!? Most of my friends don’t either!

  12. Very cool article. It makes total sense when you look at a person with a perfect nose, eyebrows, lips etc and yet put together, it just does not make for an attractive face. Instead the girl next door with average features is considered more attractive.

  13. In my opinion, it’s Grace Kelly for the “Perfect” female face. Look at her photos, nothing else close to her magical looks. What is it about her? To me her mouth is perfect. A balance of sexy and innocent at the same time. Her row of teeth are without flaw, but many women have that… So, what is the thing about GK? The way the row of exquisite teeth in her jaw are set and have a gentle curve around the mouth with aesthetically PERFECT proportions to the rest of her face. And then her lips… Dreamy and just full enough without being too large, and with sexual allure that is irresistible, you want to kiss her at once without hesitation. And yet the lips look regal and pure as a Madonna almost a deity among us mortals. You know if you look into her elegant and mesmerizing eyes you will be lost into eternity and never forget the experience of seeing a human face so flawless and goddess like, you will always think it can’t be a real human mortal, and always dream about it when you can.

  14. I can see how this is applied in everyday life, a lot of very average-looking (after I think about it) people strike me as very attractive at first glance. but is there an explanation for more unusual and striking features becoming more commonly seen as beautiful? for example, Cara Delevinge definitely does not look average, and most people comment about how unique her features are, specifically her strong brow, but I’m pretty sure most people find her attractive (at least everyone I’ve talked to about her- both male and female)? and people like the Kardashian-Jenners are held up as cosmetic goals for a large amount of girls, yet you almost never run into people who look similar to them on a day to day basis, so they couldn’t be categorized as average-looking?
    could our minds slowly be evolving to listen to our own personal preferences of appearance over what’s normal or instinctually viewed as “healthily” normal? or have we maybe started to ignore or suppress that instinct, especially with the large spread and promotion of self love and body positivity going on currently?
    sorry for how long this is, I’m just very curious of theories and explanations for this 😂

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