September 2005
Volume 5, Issue 8
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2005
Attractiveness, averageness, and sexual dimorphism in biological motion
Author Affiliations
  • Javid Sadr
    Dept. of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
  • Nikolaus F. Troje
    Dept. of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, ON
  • Ken Nakayama
    Dept. of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Journal of Vision September 2005, Vol.5, 943. doi:
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      Javid Sadr, Nikolaus F. Troje, Ken Nakayama; Attractiveness, averageness, and sexual dimorphism in biological motion. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):943.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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While the study of facial attractiveness has explored a number of factors such as familiarity, symmetry, and sexual dimorphism, perhaps the most popular notion to emerge has been that the mean of a population is what is considered most attractive. In contrast to this concept of “averageness,” however, exaggerations of sex differences have been shown to play a key role in attractiveness — a finding now mirrored in the domain of biological motion (i.e., point-light walkers) where, in men's ratings of female walkers, attractiveness correlates very well with a gender axis (Troje, 2003). We should like to clarify that this is not due to merely approaching a hypothetical average female walker but more specifically to the relative display of sexually dimorphic characteristics, even to the detriment of averageness.

As with averages of faces, synthetic walkers made by averaging two or more individuals do generally appear to be attractive. This is certainly the case with the full population average, and, indeed, even averaging all walkers of below-average attractiveness can yield a walker that is above-average. However, even the maximally average walker is nevertheless less attractive than a number of real, individual walkers. Moreover, the most attractive individuals are not necessarily nearer to the average; direction of deviation from the mean may be more meaningful than distance, so that, e.g., far-from-average walkers may be very attractive if they exaggerate female characteristics.

Thus, the most average walker is not the most attractive, the most attractive walkers are not the most average, and walkers equidistant from the average may be very attractive or unattractive depending on their relative expression of sexually dimorphic traits. For biological motion, then, the perception of attractiveness (and perhaps of gender) might be guided not simply by prototypes anchored at averages of categories but by representations specifically attuned to salient variation between categories.

Sadr, J. Troje, N. F. Nakayama, K. (2005). Attractiveness, averageness, and sexual dimorphism in biological motion [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 5(8):943, 943a,, doi:10.1167/5.8.943. [CrossRef]

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