In Brief

Proverbial wisdom has it that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but most psychological research has found the opposite: People generally tend to agree on what makes a face beautiful.

However, a study in April's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (Vol. 32, No. 2) suggests that perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to discard the old adage. Using a new statistical method, psychologist Johannes Hönekopp, PhD, of the Chemnitz Technical University in Germany, found that private judgments and shared taste each contribute about 50 percent to a rater's evaluation of a face.

Hönekopp asked 31 men and women to rate the attractiveness of 77 pictures of men and women on a scale of one to seven. Then, he asked the participants to return to the lab one week later to rate the same pictures again.

"If you compare the two agreements-a rater's agreement with himself and his agreement with other raters-you can disentangle private and shared taste," Hönekopp explains. He found that private and shared taste accounted for roughly equal portions of the variance over time.

The difference between his study and previous studies, Hönekopp says, is that in the past most researchers have only asked participants to rate faces' attractiveness once. Then, the researchers computed a statistical measure called Cronbach's alpha, which indicates how well a set of items (like individuals' ratings of photos) correlate with each other.

The problem with that approach, Hönekopp says, is that having a large number of participants also raises Cronbach's alpha. As a result, he says, many previous studies of facial attractiveness have found a misleadingly high amount of agreement between raters. Hönekopp says that his next project will be to examine how much shared and private taste contribute to ratings of body attractiveness.

-L. Winerman