Thursday, January 08, 2004
Science Meets Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking-Glass 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
These odd articles in New Scientist intrigued me, not only for their hearkening back to the old days of prognostication by physignomy: "Asymmetrical People Make Jealous Lovers," and "Handsome Men Have The Best Sperm."
From "Asymmetrical...": Just about everyone is lopsided to some extent. Hormone imbalances in the womb, for instance, can lead to one foot being bigger than the other. But in recent years, a series of animal and human studies have suggested that the implications of asymmetry go far beyond struggling to find shoes that fit both feet.

It seems that people who are more symmetrical are not only healthier, more fertile and perhaps even smarter - they are also more attractive.

This led William Brown at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to wonder about jealousy. "If jealousy is a strategy to retain your mate, then the individual more likely to be philandered on is more likely to be jealous," he speculated. And if people who are less symmetrical are less desirable, they are more likely to be cheated on."
and "Handsome...":
"Handsome men have the best sperm, a new study reveals. The researchers showed that men with the healthiest, fastest sperm were rated as the most facially attractive by women. The characteristics of a person's face have long been regarded as an indicator of health. But this is the first direct evidence to suggest a man's reproductive quality correlates with his facial characteristics, say the authors.

Maria Sancho-Navarro, a team member at the University of Valencia, Spain, said that symmetrical faces were rated as more attractive by the women. And other studies have shown that people with more symmetrical features are less likely to suffer ill health. The researcher team examined 66 male students from Valencia. They showed frontal and side photos of the men's faces to 66 women, who rated their attractiveness. The men's semen quality was measured according to World Health Organization guidelines.

A separate study by UK researchers has revealed that women with the most alluring voices have the most attractive faces. Sarah Collins and Caroline Missing, at the University of Nottingham, played recordings of 30 young women to men who later saw their photos. The men judged women with attractive voices as the best looking, reveals the study published in the latest Animal Behaviour."

Very bizarre indeed, but the logic strikes me as a tad suspicious. For instance, wouldn't it be possible that the men were impacted by their initial judgement of the women's voices - and later more inclined to judge their faces as attractive? Wouldn't the study be more somewhat more valid if it were single-blinded, i.e., the male participants were not given the opportunity to match the voice to the face, and were given two (separate) tasks - judging attractiveness of anonymous voices and anonymous faces?

Not to mention the fact that virtually everyone is a bit asymmetrical; try this little experiment sometime: stand in front of a mirror and hold a second, smaller mirror with a straight edge lengthwise to the center of your face, so you can see one half reflected. It won't really look like your usual face. To prove it, reverse the mirror so that the opposite side of your face is reflected; it will probably look quite different that the the first.

If you have access to an image-editing program that allows you to flip a section of an image, like Adobe PhotoShop™, just make a rectangular selection of an image containing a straight-on face in even lighting that divides the face vertically; then copy the selection and perform a "horizontal flip" and position it neatly next to the initial selection.