"We're able to judge attractiveness with surprising speed and on the basis of very little information," said Ingrid Olson, a professor in Penn's Department of Psychology and researcher at Penn's Center for Cognitive Neurosciece. "It seems that pretty faces 'prime' our minds to make us more likely to associate the pretty face with a positive emotion."
Olson, along with co-author Christy Marshuetz, of Yale University recently published their findings in the journal Emotion, a publication of the American Psychological Association. The researchers set out to study cognitive processes behind a very real phenomenon: physically attractive people have advantages that unattractive people do not.
"Research has demonstrated time and again that there are tremendous social and economic benefits to being attractive," Olson said. "Attractive people are paid more, are judged more intelligent and will receive more attention in most facets of life. "This favoritism, while poorly understood, seems to be innate and cross-cultural.Studies suggest that even infants prefer pretty faces," Olson said.
In their report, the researchers describe three experiments to investigate the preference for attractiveness.
The first study tested the idea that beauty can be assessed rapidly by asking study participants to rate faces pictures of non-famous males and females taken from three different high school yearbooks and the Internet shown for .013 seconds on a computer screen.