Symmetry Is Not Pretty

From Chatty Apes we learn that symmetry has little to do with whether a face is attractive:

Measurable symmetry accounts for less than 1% of the variance in the attractiveness of women’s faces and less than 3% of the variance of the attractiveness of men’s faces.  … the initial studies showing big effects typically involved samples of less than 20 faces each, which is irresponsibly small for correlational studies with open-ended variables.  Once the bigger samples starting showing up, the effect basically disappeared for women and was shown to be pretty low for men.  But no one believed the later, bigger studies, even most of their own authors — pretty much everyone in my business still thinks that symmetry is a big deal in attractiveness.  So, the first lesson I learned:  Small samples are …  My solution has been to ditch the old p<.05 significance standard.

I see the same thing in health economics; once people see some data supporting a  theory that makes sense to them, they neglect larger contrary data.   

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  • http://www.mesotheliomaweb.org mesothelioma

    Chatty Apes is down and has been down for some time.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/2005/07/measuring-depth-of-ideas.html Lubos Motl

    Similar conclusion has been found in physics during the last 10 years. We no longer think that gauge symmetries are fundamental or irrevocably beautiful and attractive; they are a redunancy of a description. (Click e.g. my name and search for gauge symmetry.) In the analogy with the face, having the left 1/2 identical to the right 1/2 is just a waste of space.

  • Curt Adams

    My first reaction is to agree with ditching the 0.05 p-value cutoff. I’m kind of shocked that scientists don’t notice decreasing effect size with increasing sample size – it’s indication #1 that the initial result is at least partly publication bias or something similar. Notably, though, symmetry is important in many animals so it’s reasonable to expect a substantial effect in humans.

    A side issue might be that the effect size of symmetry will decrease if the faces vary more in other aspects of attractiveness. Humans care a lot about age, race, weight, and body fashion, and those are hard to standardize.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    Interesting, especially as applied to arguably more important areas like health economics. It would be nice for someone to take a comprehensive look at cultural myth/wish fulfillment as it corrupts the scientific (and popularization of scientific discovery) process.

  • anon

    “Measurable symmetry accounts for less than 1% of the variance in the attractiveness of women’s faces and less than 3% of the variance of the attractiveness of men’s faces”

    When dividing up variance among various components, I would think that you have to be pretty careful, especially if some variables are even mildly correlated…. I would like to know the other variables measured.

    “I see the same thing in health economics”

    Robin, in regards to health economics, I still can’t believe how quickly you dismiss other explanations brought up on this blog. You seem completely unable to deeply examine the evidence, and instead fall victim to some of the biases you accuse others of having.