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Judging Beauty

February 22, 2006

A recent study shows that we may be able to spot a good-looking face before we even know what we’re looking at.


Our instant beauty detector. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

On the cult website, users rate the attractiveness of total strangers with the click of a mouse. But University of Pennsylvania psychologist Ingrid Olson has upped the ante. She and her colleagues showed people photos of extremely attractive or unattractive people – for just over a hundredth of a second.

INGRID OLSON (University of Pennsylvania):
And people couldn’t really see them. They could see a flash of light but they couldn’t say what exactly they saw. So we told them, you need to just go on a gut instinct and give us some assessment of whether or not that face was attractive or not.

Surprisingly, their answers matched the opinions of people who actually saw the photos—showing that the subconscious brain can actually judge appearance without our even being aware of it.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.