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  • 11.12.15

What You Think Is Beautiful Is Nuture, Not Nature

In judging the attractiveness of strangers, twins agreed no more than the rest of us.

What You Think Is Beautiful Is Nuture, Not Nature
[Top Photo: Archive Photos/Getty Images]

In a game of “hot or not,” it turns out even twins don’t agree.

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A new study, led by Laura Germine of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, used twins to “estimate the relative contributions of genetic and environmental variation” when judging attractiveness.

The first surprise is that the attractiveness of a face can be measured. This is done by removing everything except the face from a picture, then presenting the photo in a standard way to the test subject. This, as you will see if you try the test for yourself, appears to consist of hastily chopping off the hair, then pasting the result onto a black background.

The test asks you to rate each of 50 faces from one to seven, based on how attractive you think they are. I tested 0.68, against an average of 0.48, which sounds neat but in fact means that my preferences were more typical of the average person.

This test was run on 35,000 volunteers, and the results used as a foundation for the study, in which a similar test was given to 547 pairs of identical twins, and 214 pairs of non-identical twins of the same sex. This test, involving 200 faces, was able to compare the preferences of identical and non-identical twins, using the previous mass-study data as a baseline. The results showed that the identical twins agreed no more often than anyone else, suggesting that appreciation of beauty is learned, not inherited.

Your environment, then, has the greatest impact on who find attractive. But your environment in this case means anything and everything you are exposed to–not just your circle of friends, or your family.

“The types of environments that are important are not those that are shared by those who grow up in the same family,” says Germine, “but are much more subtle and individual, potentially including things such as one’s unique, highly personal experiences with friends or peers, as well as social and popular media.”

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Twins are a pretty great way to provide a control for experiments on one set of genetic material. We’ve already seen how side-by-side pictures of twins can show how smoking ruins your face, and NASA’s latest experiment to track the effects of spending a year in space use a pair of twin astronauts as a control–one on the ISS and one here on Earth.

Just be careful not to make the same mistake I did when researching this article, by typing “hot twins” into a Google Image Search.

About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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