Perceptual adaptation to facial asymmetries

Gillian Rhodes, Kim Louw, E.L. Evangelista

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)


Humans and other animals are highly sensitive to deviations from bilateral symmetry and prefer symmetric mates. Fluctuating asymmetries (FAs) are random deviations from perfect symmetry that can result from developmental instability. Human perceptions of facial asymmetry are driven by FAs and insensitive to directional asymmetries (DAs), which have a consistent direction of bias (e.g., left side always larger) across the population and are unrelated to developmental stability. We hypothesized that perceptual adaptation may filter out DAs and provide a proximate mechanism for this perceptual focus on FAs. We created a small population of faces with DAs by applying a unilateral distortion to the same side of each face. After 5 min of adaptation, (new) faces with these DAs looked less asymmetric and the most symmetric-looking distortion shifted toward the adapting asymmetry level. Parallel changes occurred for attractiveness. We suggest that perceptual adaptation may provide the proximate mechanism for an evolutionarily adaptive focus on FAs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-508
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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