Rapid detection of human facial attractiveness in groups

Carvey, Richard J.

May 2017

Thesis or dissertation

© 2017 Richard J Carvey. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

In a world full of great visual repetition, humans have evolved to simplify visual processing, taking redundant information and compressing it into a simpler form (Alvarez, 2011). This compressed form is an ensemble representation, an abstract singular entity that conveys the relevant information about its constituents.

Haberman & Whitney (2009) demonstrated that even with stimuli as complex as human faces, and specifically their emotional expressions, such a representation can be generated, and the mean expression of a group can be accurately identified from brief presentations. Other research has shown that the attractiveness of faces can be rapidly assessed from very brief exposures (Olson & Marshuetz, 2005; Willis & Todorov, 2006), but this has not considered more than a single face in a presentation. Those that have, only considered estimates of frequency of attractiveness comparing between brief exposures and longer presentation times, not taking into account how accurate these estimates were.

The aim of this thesis was to explore the accuracy with which participants could judge the attractiveness of a group of faces, either as a two-alternative-forced-choice task judging which of two groups contained more attractive faces, whether a single group contained more attractive or more unattractive faces, and estimating the number of attractive faces in a group. The results showed that the judgements of attractiveness were accurate from brief exposures, but this judgement was modulated partially by the task at hand. This modulation was further explored by comparing various ratings of attractiveness of the groups, and suggested that the ensemble representation might be formed by some combination of statistical and visual averaging. Finally, the use of eye-tracking technology showed no bias in visual attention towards more attractive faces, and that fixation duration patterns were, to some extent, also modulated by the task.

Department of Psychology, The University of Hull
Liu, Chang Hong; Jellema, Tjeerd; Nakabayashi, Kazuyo
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