The Psychology of Beauty
On the different theories of beauty and the role of perception in the judgment of beauty.
The psychology of beauty is complex not just because the concept of beauty is as yet undefined but also because it is largely true that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder or how individuals perceive other people or things. Beauty can be attributed to everything that appeals to our senses and all objects that are compatible with our personal preferences. Beauty as we perceive it is largely a projection of our needs and beautiful objects or persons simply cater to our idealizations or fancies and reflect our natural need to relate to all that is appealing. Human beings are controlled by the senses and we tend to repeat processes or experiences that appeal to the senses, that are harmonious and have structure and form. Beauty appeals to our sense of sight so there is a preference for repeating the experience of beauty.
But how do we perceive beauty and why are some people or objects considered more beautiful than some others? Psychological tests have considered symmetry and proportion as extremely important in the perception of beauty. Beauty is also more holistic than specific as a beautiful object is judged as a whole package that is appealing rather than judged on the basis of its parts. Freudian or psychoanalytic explanations of beauty are scarce but psychoanalytic concepts could be used to consider our judgment of beauty as a projection or wish fulfillment so people attractive to us are typically ones who we admire or who in some way represent our own desires and fancies. Psychoanalysis can also be compatible with the idea that beauty is preferential perception when there are similarities with a parent. Most people are also considered beautiful when they have baby-faced features or a particular innocence in their faces. Beauty can also be culturally motivated so in certain eastern cultures women with beautiful feet are considered attractive whereas in the Victorian era in England, women with elegance and grace were the ones with smooth neck and tiny waist and modern western women are judged on the basis of their breasts, bottom and lips. The perception of beauty can change and studies have found that women may prefer softer features of men during particular times and more masculine features at other times depending on the stage of their reproductive cycle. So there are actually several theories of beauty which are discussed here one by one.
1. Beauty as Symmetry and Proportion – As you might have noticed in case of ancient architectural marvels, symmetry was extremely important. Whether it was the great pyramids in Egypt or the architectural wonders in Greece, symmetry and perfect dimensions played an important part in the history of aesthetics. This whole idea of symmetry also applies to every other object or person that we perceive so a person with perfectly symmetrical face would also be considered as an epitome of physical perfection. Perfectly shaped and sharp features are attractive to most people and the most beautiful faces are the ones which have very proportionate features. The same applies to the body and the low waist to hip ratio giving a curvy lower part of the body in women is considered more attractive than a straight shape which usually does not indicate fertility. As human beings are finally looking for evolutionary advantage women with a curvy shapes are considered more fertile and are thus more attractive to men.