Study to examine key to attractiveness

Physical attractiveness might be determined by the way people move their faces and alter their voices instead of by the way they look, a researcher said today.

Dr Ed Morrison has been awarded a £94,000 grant to examine whether it is looks alone that makes someone's face attractive.

The evolutionary psychologist from the University of Portsmouth will look at whether it is determined by fixed aspects, such as symmetry of the face, or whether changing expressions and variation of voice can have an effect.

Dr Morrison, whose study is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), said: "The old expression 'the camera never lies' might be proved wrong.

"There is a widespread assumption that photographs can capture the entirety of facial attractiveness but I want to challenge this belief by proving that facial movement and vocal variability are also important.

"There is already evidence to suggest that the same face might not be similarly attractive in a picture and a video.

"Attractiveness is important in areas such as romantic partnerships but also for non-romantic friendships, and in more surprising cases such as hiring, voting and jury decisions. Attractive people are often treated more favourably and are assumed to do better in life.

"Therefore understanding the basis of facial attractiveness judgments is crucial because it influences so many face-to-face interactions."

Dr Morrison predicted that his study will show people change their facial movement and alter their voice when they interact with a person they are attracted to.

He explained that his research will allow him to quantify exactly how much attractiveness can be changed, and how much cannot.

He said: "I expect men and women will change the way their faces move to increase their appeal to the opposite sex.

"The face is where we exhibit some of our most explicit signals, it's the human equivalent of the peacock's tail.

"A smile might be fairly easy to interpret but there are more subtle messages going on all the time."

Dr Morrison will record faces in speed-dating scenarios and then use computer software to produce animations of their facial movement.

Using this motion-tracking technique, he will then be able to isolate dynamic information based on real people but whose shape has been standardised and stripped of any other distinguishing qualities.