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Computer simulation of a beautiful woman
Mirror, mirror on the wall ...Image: picture-alliance/chromorange

Beauty quotient

April 16, 2010

A psychologist from Regensburg has developed a formula to measure attractiveness. His computers calculate how beautiful a person's body is and he's working on a method for faces. But even the researcher has his qualms.


How beautiful do you think these people are?

Computer simulation of an attractive woman and man, by Martin Gruendl
Image: Beautycheck

Martin Gruendl, psychologist from the University of Regensburg is convinced that they are some of the best-looking people around.

"We can measure beauty," he told Deutsche Welle. In polls, the pictures were given high scores by respondents. Tan skin, a slender face, little excess fat and a narrow nose are only a few of the characteristics of beauty that Gruendel says he has identified.

Would you like to meet the people in the photos? Sorry to disappoint, but they do not actually exist. Gruendl took photographs of 64 women and 32 men and had respondents place them on a scale from 1 (less attractive) to 7 (very attractive). The man and woman pictured above are digital compilations of the photos with the highest scores.

But there is also the other side of the story. These are what Gruendl bluntly calls on his Web site beautycheck.de prototypes "for a very unattractive" face.

Computer simulation of an unattractive woman and man, by Martin Gruendl
Image: Beautycheck

Bordering on tabloid material

Gruendl not only studies human faces, but body shapes as well. Those who are interested can send pictures of their body to the researcher and have a computer calculate just how attractive their body." A similar service is not yet available for faces, but that will likely be made available in the future.

"I still have misgivings," Martin Gruendl said about his work. "The topic borders on being something out of a tabloid."

He recently received a telephone call from a plastic surgeon asking him to investigate the perfect shape and size of a breast. Gruendl refused, saying he didn't want to end up being referred to by the media as the "boob researcher from Regensburg."

"Anyone can tell if a face is pretty," explained the 34-year old. "But when you ask for the reasons, no one can put it into words." Martin Gruendl is not a surgeon and he is not interested in creating the perfect body. The psychologist simply wants to find out why we find certain people more attractive than others.

Cultural factors undoubtedly play a central role. In the past, for example, plump was considered attractive and these days models cannot be skinny enough. In Europe, quipped Gruendl, it's more attractive to have a fat bank account in reserve rather than to have a cushiony rear end.

Online questionnaire on beautycheck.de
Users can request their own beauty ratioImage: Beautycheck

Gruendl offers a so-called "beauty ratio," a sort of ranking for body shapes, to those who submit their photos.

The researcher rebuts concerns about the psychological effect of participants being informed of their beauty ratio. "People get feedback on how beautiful they are through their peers already," he said, "and IQ tests have been around for ages, they just have a longer tradition."

He pointed out that his research represents just one part of the bigger picture. "What we do not measure are things like charisma, a person's smile, the sound of their voice, their haircut or their clothes," he added.

Virtual fountain of youth

In addition to the specific characteristics of attractive faces, youth and health are key to beauty, said Gruendl. But even for those who haven't yet reached the age when everything starts to sag, the researcher cautions against comparing yourself too closely to the beauty prototypes.

"It is very, very unlikely that a person will match all the beauty criteria," he said.

Several years ago, Gruendl evaluated pictures of the finalists in the Miss Germany contest. All women received relatively low scores; the highest score went to a "virtual Miss" he had created on his computer.

"The virtual faces have traits that are unattainable for regular people," said Gruendl. "But we are still confronted with faces like those when it comes to ads for cosmetics, for example.

"We're in danger of becoming victims of our own, completely unrealistic ideal," commented the beauty researcher.

Author: Benjamin Hammer

Editor: Kate Bowen

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