Worse Than You Think: Positivity Bias in Evaluations of Human Facial Attractiveness

28 Pages Posted: 1 May 2018

See all articles by Diana Orghian

Diana Orghian

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

César Hidalgo

University of Toulouse; University of Manchester; Harvard University

Date Written: April 13, 2018


Attractive people are perceived to be healthier, wealthier, and more sociable. Yet, people often judge the attractiveness of others based on incomplete facial information. Here, we test the hypothesis that people fill in the missing information with positive inferences when judging others’ facial beauty. To test this hypothesis, we conducted five experiments where participants judged the attractiveness of human faces in complete and incomplete photographs. Our data shows that — relative to complete photographs — participants judge faces in incomplete photographs as physically more attractive. This positivity bias is: (i) replicated for different types of face incompleteness, (ii) mostly specific to aesthetic judgments, (iii) stronger for male participants, (iv) specific to human faces (as opposed to pets, flowers, and landscapes), (v) sensitive to participants’ prior expectations about the facial beauty of the people being evaluated, and, (vi) it involves a holistic processing of the faces.

Keywords: positivity bias, inference, face processing, attractiveness, configurational processing, expectations

Suggested Citation

Orghian, Diana and Hidalgo, César, Worse Than You Think: Positivity Bias in Evaluations of Human Facial Attractiveness (April 13, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3162479 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3162479

Diana Orghian (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

César Hidalgo

University of Toulouse ( email )

41 Allées Jules Guesde - CS 61321

University of Manchester ( email )

Booth Street West
Manchester, M15 6PB
United Kingdom

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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