Perceptual adaptation affects attractiveness of female bodies

Christopher Winkler, Gillian Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated whether short durations (5 minutes) of exposure to distorted bodies can change subsequent perceptions of attractiveness and normality. Participants rated 110 female bodies, varying in width, on either their attractiveness or normality before and after exposure to either extremely narrow (−50% of original width in Experiments 1 and 2) or extremely wide bodies (+50% of original width in Experiment 1, and +70% of original width in Experiment 2). In both experiments, the most attractive and most normal looking bodies became significantly and substantially narrower after exposure to narrow bodies. The most normal looking body changed significantly after exposure to wide bodies, but the most attractive body did not. These results show that perceptions of body attractiveness can be influenced by experience, but that there is an asymmetry between the effects of exposure to narrow and wide bodies. We consider a possible mechanism for this unexpected asymmetry, as well as possible implications for the effects of media exposure on body-image. The most attractive body shape was consistently narrower than the most normal looking body shape. Substantial changes in what looked normal were accompanied by congruent changes in what looked attractive, suggesting that a normal or average body shape may function as a reference point against which body attractiveness is judged.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-154
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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