Beautiful, isn't she? She ought to be...this photo has been digitally manipulated on a pixel-by-pixel basis to represent what a set of German researchers have theorized to be the mathematical basis for human beauty.
During a long-term research project at the Universities of Regensburg and Rostock (Germany), we have tried to find answers to questions like these. We questioned why some faces seem more attractive than others; and we did experiments on social perception, that is: we tried to find out about the social qualities attributed to faces of specific attractiveness.
...For this purpose, we took standardized digital photographs of 64 female and 32 male faces aged 17-29 years, including eight photo models. In a preliminary test, these faces were randomly presented to test subjects using a self-programmed presentation Software (Authorware 5.0 package). Test subjects rated the attractiveness of the faces on a seven-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (very unattractive) to 7 (very attractive). On the basis of these ratings, the pictures of the faces were ranked for further use according to their average attractiveness values.
Using a morphing software (Morpher 3.0, freeware), new 50:50 percent compound images were generated from each two original faces using a binary tree scheme and following the order of the attractiveness values for the faces. For example, a compound image (w1-2) was generated by combining the least attractive female face (w1) with the second-least attractive female face (w2); in a next step, w3 and w4 were combined to w3-4, and so on. The next generation of pictures was then produced by combining w1-2 and w3-4 to w1-4, then w1-4 with w5-8 to w1-8 and so on, resulting in two single compound images w1-64 for the 64 female and m1-32 for the 32 male faces. For the calculation of each new average face, 500 reference points were defined, resulting in a total of over 75,000 reference points that were defined during the whole study. In this way, we were able to produce pictures of average faces that are almost indistinguishable from 'normal' everyday faces, making the faces created by morphing easily comparable to the original photographs taken. Thus, the applicability of our results is likely to be higher than in previous studies, in which lower-resolution compound images have been produced.
...The results of our study are quite surprising. Compound (i.e. morphed) faces were, on average, regarded as being more attractive than the original faces (mean attractiveness value 4.3 for female and 4.5 for male faces, respectively). [Emphasis added] The more original faces one compound face consisted of, the higher its assigned attractiveness value (r=0.57** for female and r=0.64** for male faces). This result confirms on the one hand the 'attractiveness is averageness' hypothesis (Langlois & Roggmann, 1990); on the other hand, the attractiveness of the original faces included in a compound image itself influences the overall attractiveness of the compound face, i.e. the more attractive the original faces, the more attractive the resulting compound face (r=0.75** for female and r=0.68** for male faces). Thus, not simply the number, but also the attractiveness of the original faces influences the average attractiveness rating of compound faces. This result is in contrast to the 'attractiveness is averageness' hypothesis (which states that average faces are always most attractive regardless to their origin). A big surprise is furthermore, that the attractiveness values for compound male faces is higher than for the original ones - a fact that is in sharp contrast to previous studies in which no rise of attractiveness values in morphed male faces could be found.
The questionnaire in the model agency showed that 88% of n=16 faces that had been selected for the 'beauty' category (out of 64 faces presented) had been generated using the morphing software, which means that 14 out of 16 faces chosen by the employees of the model agency did not exist in reality. [Again, emphasis mine]
...Finally, the results of our studies on social perception suggest that there is a well-defined stereotype of attractiveness: People with more attractive faces were assessed to be more successful, contended, pleasant, intelligent, sociable, exciting, creative and diligent than people with less attractive faces. These results particularly show the far-reaching social consequences human facial attractiveness may have. In order to illustrate this, we constructed three-dimensional animated avatars (head models) using original faces that had been given extreme values like "very unintelligent" or "very successful" in previous ratings.
To sum up, our study shows clearly that the most attractive faces do not exist in reality, they are morphs, i.e. computer-created compound images you would never find in everyday live. These virtual faces showed characteristics that are unreachable for average human beings.
Despite this fact, people living in modern post-industrial societies are exposed to these kinds of artificially created and manipulated, 'perfect' faces every day, e.g. via TV advertising or fashion magazines. The result may be that we all may become victims of our self-created, completely unrealistic ideal of beauty.