The appreciation of beauty is an integral facet of the human experience, manifesting itself in our interactions with the natural world, our fellow beings, artistic expressions, and even abstract concepts. The allure of encountering something beautiful is not only pleasing but also thought-provoking.
However, this admiration for beauty presents an intriguing paradox.
Research into human aesthetic preferences has illuminated the convergence of our notions of beauty toward specific attributes: simplicity, symmetry, harmonious color arrangements, distinct shapes, ratios, and geometrical patterns. Paradoxically, individuals can harbor remarkably diverse interpretations of beauty, especially concerning their preferences in music, art, attire, and other domains of human creativity.
This observation suggests that while beauty standards possess a degree of objectivity, they simultaneously bear the hallmark of subjectivity. How does science endeavor to elucidate this apparent conundrum?
Psychological Insights and the Realm of Aesthetic Standards
In the realm of mate selection, evolutionary psychology offers a captivating lens through which to examine this intricate matter. A study published this year in Scientific Reports by a team of psychologists from the University of Konstanz introduces a compelling rationale for the convergence of our aesthetic inclinations toward particular attributes.
The study delves into the aesthetic preference for a shape known as Hogarth’s Line of Beauty (LoB), an S-shaped curve. Participants tasked with selecting an attractive S-shaped form consistently chose the same Hogarth’s LoB. This shape’s visual appeal was first expounded upon by British artist William Hogarth in his 1753 work “The Analysis of Beauty,” where he proposed that wavy lines hold greater visual allure than straight or curved ones. This idea has since permeated various design fields, ranging from landscaping to hairdressing.
However, the study not only furnishes empirical validation of the preference for Hogarth’s LoB but also furnishes an explanation for our affinity for this specific shape.
By evaluating preferences for Hogarth’s LoB within the context of the natural curvature of the human body, particularly in relation to female lumbar curvature, the researchers discovered that the woman whose lumbar curvature closely approximated Hogarth’s LoB was deemed the most visually appealing.
Unraveling the Evolutionary Tapestry of Beauty
The study’s authors posit that this particular shape bears proximity to the optimal degree of lumbar curvature essential for pregnant individuals who aim to carry a baby without incurring back strain. Consequently, possessing this lumbar curvature might enhance survival during the gestation period and facilitate the birth of healthy offspring.
Studies of this nature posit that human appreciation for specific features has evolved due to their historical fitness benefits for our species. However, it’s imperative to recognize that additional evolutionary forces, beyond those centered on mate selection, contribute to our shared aesthetic preferences for attributes like symmetry and rhythm.
For instance, our affinity for symmetry and specific ratios aids in perceiving regularities within our surroundings. This ability to categorize and construct mental models of the environment is indispensable for successful interactions with it. However, as previously noted, our perceptions of beauty also diverge in intriguing and nuanced ways, a perspective rooted in different theoretical frameworks.
The Multifaceted Notions of Attractiveness
The notion of attractiveness transcends mere physical appearances. These aesthetic judgments often elude the explanatory boundaries of certain evolutionary viewpoints and instead are intricately linked to our notions of identity, self-presentation, and social communication.
As inherently social creatures, humans thrive within collectives. Moreover, we confer significance upon arbitrary facets of reality as long as they possess special meaning to us.
Consider an environmentalist who designates green as their favorite color due to its association with nature, or a French national drawn to blue as a tribute to their country’s sports teams. In both cases, aesthetic preferences extend beyond aesthetics, signifying identity and potentially signaling alignment with specific social groups.
Unraveling the Dynamics of Attraction
In a 2020 study led by Joerg Fingerhut from the Berlin School of Mind and Brain in Germany, researchers unveiled the central role of aesthetic considerations in shaping our self-concept. This phenomenon termed the aesthetic self-effect, indicates that alterations in aesthetic preferences can influence our self-perception.
Fingerhut elucidates, “When people imagine a change in what pleases them, of what kind of artworks they like, they think it impacts them at their core — at who they are, their identity. This holds for imagined music taste changes but also for changes in their preferences for visual art.”
Consequently, individuals derive a sense of self through their aesthetic preferences, which can be linked to almost any arbitrary aspect of their environment. Thus, while evolution may constrain our perception of attractiveness in others for the sake of mate selection, the realm of beauty standards remains boundless. Humans possess the remarkable capacity to imbue meaning and beauty into a myriad of chosen elements.