A new study in The Journal of General Psychology has found evidence that faces of mixed racial phenotypes are perceived as more attractive than stereotypically White and Black faces.
“The multiracial population has increased over the past several years, and especially so in the United States. Given this, as well as the melting pot nature of our current society with many different people living side by side, we are exposed to a multitude of faces on a daily basis,” said Elena V. Stepanova, an assistant professor at The University of Southern Mississippi and the study’s corresponding author.
“But what makes one’s face attractive? People are always interested in what makes one attractive. We know from previous work that physical attractiveness has positive consequences for many life outcomes, such as positive social interactions, mating success, health, employment, and income-related outcomes.”
“Thus, we attempted to discern what facial features drive people’s perceptions of attractiveness and which faces (White, Black or mixed) are perceived as the most attractive.”
The two-part study compared combinations of Afrocentric facial features and Eurocentric facial features.
In their first experiment, the researchers had 85 undergraduate students rate the attractiveness of six computer-generated faces that varied in racial features and skin tone.
For their second experiment, the researchers had another 321 undergraduate students again rate computer-generated faces. This time, however, Stepanova and her colleagues created a set of 100 faces that had finer gradations of skin tone and facial physiognomy.
In both experiments, participants rated mixed race faces with medium skin tone as the most attractive.
“Both men and women find faces of mixed-race men as the most attractive, followed by Black faces, and then White faces,” Stepanova told PsyPost. “However, when we talk about mixed-race faces, faces that have (a) an even mixture of both Afrocentric and Eurocentric facial features (shape of the nose, lips, etc.) and (b) a skin tone that is not too light and not too dark are perceived as the most attractive.”
“People are attracted most to the faces that are an even mixture of Black and White phenotypes.”
The study also found no evidence that the attractiveness ratings were moderated by the ethnicity of the participants.
The research, however, has some important caveats.
“Human facial attractiveness is very multifaceted,” Stepanova remarked. “We only used male faces. Future studies should consider answering this question with female faces. We also used computer generated faces for better control of skin tone and facial features manipulations, and the next step would be to conduct this work with actual photographs. What about younger and older faces (i.e., faces of kids and older adults)?”
The study, “Attractiveness as a Function of Skin Tone and Facial Features: Evidence from Categorization Studies“, was also co-authored by Michael J. Strube.