Fitting the Mind to the World: Face Adaptation and Attractiveness Aftereffects

Gillian Rhodes, Linda Jeffery, T.L. Watson, C.W.G. Clifford, K. Nakayama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

344 Citations (Scopus)


Average faces are attractive, but what is average depends on experience. We examined the effect of brief exposure to consistent facial distortions on what looks normal (average) and what looks attractive. Adaptation to a consistent distortion shifted what looked most normal, and what looked most attractive, toward that distortion. These normality and attractiveness aftereffects occurred when the adapting and test faces differed in orientation by 90'(+45degrees vs. -45degrees), suggesting adaptation of high-level neurons whose coding is not strictly retinotopic. Our results suggest that perceptual adaptation can rapidly recalibrate people's preferences to fit the faces they see. The results also suggest that average faces are attractive because of their central location in a distribution of faces (i.e., prototypicality), rather than because of any intrinsic appeal of particular physical characteristics. Recalibration of preferences may have important consequences, given the powerful effects of perceived attractiveness on person perception, mate choice, social interactions, and social outcomes for individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-566
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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