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There is a widespread claim that we use beauty in the selection of a partner as a proxy to their overall health. The idea is that this is an evolutionary adaptation.

Are there any studies to confirm that people we generally find physically attractive are actually more healthy compared to people who are generally considered unattractive?

I do not mean perceived health. I don't know why my questions keep getting mis-interpreted or what to do about it. The correlation between perceived health and beauty is unrelated to the claim: the claim is that beauty actually helps us predict the person's overall health.

Example source: Michio Kaku, a well-respected physicist, in a "big think" episode:

Beauty, for example, according to one theory, is a way in which we have [sic] of judging the health of another person.

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    Please find a source of this claim. Commonly there's a fit/healthy claim, a beautiful/good genes claim, but I've never heard such claim as your question... – Sklivvz Apr 23 '12 at 7:55
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    @Sklivvz done – though this one example is by far not the first time I've heard this. – RomanSt Apr 23 '12 at 13:12
  • I read somewhere that the Quetelet index, which may be almost the same mathematically as the BMI, was originally proposed as an explanatory variable for whether a woman was attractive. I don't recall the source offhand, and have no idea if there is any truth to this. – Paul Apr 27 '12 at 14:07
  • Health is a word with means different things to different people. How about making the question more specific and using lifespan as a measurement of health? – Christian Sep 24 '12 at 8:59
  • It might be both true and false. Our instincts might force us to prefer healthy person as mate, but social influence might be stronger than our instincts. Therefore, it would be hard to determine in which proportion it is true and would certainly not be always true nor always false. – Zonata Oct 2 '12 at 20:20
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There have been studies which appear to confirm the correlation between facial symmetry and health (see this one from the University of St. Andrews for example) so there is certainly something connecting appearance and apparent health.

Then you just need to be able to correlate beauty with symmetry and this should be at least partly demonstrated, and in fact this has been shown here, here and in other articles.

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    Ah, that's apparent health. I'm wondering if there's any correlation with actual health though. – RomanSt Apr 23 '12 at 17:20
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    @Rory: You are misquoting the article of the University of St.Andrews. They say that people who are judged by other people as looking healthy are more likely to have facial symmetry and be attractive. Nothing in this study shows that the people are actually healthy. – Christian Sep 24 '12 at 9:07
  • There was a comment here refuting the symmetry aspect, but i can only assume that it was deemed "too shocking". – Cees Timmerman Sep 25 '12 at 9:05
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    @romkyns A recent study reported in the economist seems to verify the correlation between symmetry and objectively measured health, if only in monkeys. – matt_black Sep 25 '12 at 21:07
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    It has occurred to me that youth is one of the universal factors of beauty, and is obviously correlated with better health. – RomanSt Sep 26 '12 at 10:02
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I propose that it would be easier to correlate *ugliness with unhealthiness.

Many (harmful) genetic traits and behavioral habits render a person dis-favorable in appearance. "disfavorable in appearance" is a mainstream generalization.

Not all 'ugliness' is unhealthy - a person with a huge nose possess no inherent health problem. Greeks may find them attractive. 'Plus Sized' has become a fashion model quality, and in many ancient days extra weight plus tone were considered supreme. This is borderline, as beauty and tone fade with age and fatness destroys your knees and heart, etc.

traits

  • downs syndrome

habits

  • meth
  • long-term smoking
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Physical beauty, or rather human beauty varies differently by culture, but there are some extremely common trends that tend to follow in most definitions of beauty that can be traced back to our primitive roots.

The most important indicator of female beauty is the Waist-to-Hip ratio.

On Female Hip Size

Hip size indicates pelvic size and the amount of additional fat storage that can be used as a source of energy.

On Female Waist size

Waist size conveys information such as current reproductive status or health status.

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051104001000

Of course with a larger pelvic size means less physical trauma during childbirth, greatly decreasing the chance of injury or death to mother and child as a result of procreation. Evolutionarily speaking, doing the deed is meaningless if viable offspring is not likely. Remember that human beings are a special animal in that we have an unusually long post-partem dependence on parents to become independent physical, mental, and emotionally mature adults. This in many ways is a direct result of our large brains needing time to develop as well as other physical limitations imposed on how large an offspring can be produced as a two legged creature.

So the pelvic size and fat comes into play that you look very well fed and are more likely to carry to term, produce ample milk for the offspring, and have vitality to raise and feed children after nursing.

A persons waist tells a lot about their overall health. The most obvious thing that can be told is telling if the female is pregnant or not. Other health factors can be told by looking at the waist, general fitness, core strength, obvious deformities or flaws.

From the source cited above:

We postulate that in westernized societies with no risk of seasonal lack of food, the waist, conveying information about fecundity and health status, will be more important than hip size for assessing a female’s attractiveness.

So in most modern western societies we tend not to suffer from diseases of poverty but diseases of indulgence and abundance. It is therefore deemed more attractive that a woman not have excess body fat around the waist however it is still acceptable and beautiful for women to have bodyfat around their hips and buttocks as these are physiologically the healthiest places on the body to store excess body fat, thus one is still healthy for having fatty hips.

On Male Attractiveness:

Women, on average, tend to be more attracted to men who have a relatively narrow waist, a V-shaped torso, and broad shoulders, are taller than they are, and display a high-degree of facial symmetry, and relatively masculine facial dimorphism. With regard to male-male-attractiveness, one source reports that the most important factor that attracts gay men to other males is the man's physical attractiveness.

*Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_attractiveness#cite_note-19*

Again this is a throwback to our primitive roots where men and women didn't live and operate within a society that gives them equal standing to take care for themselves. When a women was with child, pregnant or otherwise she was severely hindered to hunt, gather, and build. To survive they needed to not only find and copulate with a strong provider, they needed the ability to keep them around (sex) so that they can be provided for while taking care of a child. The cost of reproduction is almost negligible for males unless women had the ability to keep men interested in them. Of course evolutionary speaking from the male perspective the primitive desire for fatherhood was another huge factor as raising viable offspring is the end goal.

Attractive men tend to be tall, have strong upper body strength and narrow waists. This conveys strength, ability to build strong structures and hunt. Ability to defend from danger. They tend to have good skin, and symetric features conveying they are healthy and free of genetic abnormalities.

  • I appreciate the theories you present, however this does not address the question of whether the presence of those traits has been confirmed, in a study, to correlate with overall health (as suggested in a talk I've now linked to in my question). – RomanSt Apr 23 '12 at 13:15
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    @romkyns I think that the point I am trying to make is that human beauty is a sexual determination and sexual determiniation is instinctively corellated with health, thus it can be argued (A = B and B = C so A = C) that a correlation between physical beauty and good health exists. – maple_shaft Apr 23 '12 at 13:33
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    You misunderstand what a correlation is. It's a statistical property of a system that can be measured. The question asks about the measurement of this property, but you seem to merely report other occurrences of the claim, not verifications of it. – Sklivvz Sep 25 '12 at 0:24
  • I think the survival aspect is useful. +1 – Cees Timmerman Sep 25 '12 at 8:52
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    This is 100% based on modern Western beauty ideals. Evo psych strikes again! – Eva Mar 7 '13 at 2:28
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Infectious diseases like smallpox mess up the skin.

Genetic disorders like Progeria mess up body proportions.

More subtle are body part ratios in healthy people:

The distance between a woman's eyes and the distance between her eyes and her mouth are key factors in determining how attractive she is to others, according to new psychology research from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Toronto. - New 'Golden Ratios' for Female Facial Beauty, ScienceDaily (Dec. 17, 2009)

The Math Behind the Beauty, By M. Bourne has an interactive Flash app to match photos with mathematical ratios, and you can enter your own data at The Perfect Face - Golden Ratio Beauty Calculator. This video demos gender bending using Gimp. Depending on your position on the Kinsey scale, the ratio of masculine vs. feminine traits is important for sexual attraction.

cor·re·la·tion noun \ˌkȯr-ə-ˈlā-shən, ˌkär-\ Definition of CORRELATION 1: the state or relation of being correlated; specifically : a relation existing between phenomena or things or between mathematical or statistical variables which tend to vary, be associated, or occur together in a way not expected on the basis of chance alone - http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/correlation

I've linked to studies and mathematical models, but including images of disease progress and their resulting physical effects might run me afoul of delicate senses again.

This guy never got scarred by a vaccine, so could be naturally immune to it.

I've clearly shown that disease (health flaw) can affect appearance (beauty). Appearance does not affect disease that much. (Nice clothes and make-up can attract people and so improve health, but are unrelated to phenotype and can also expose one to disease.)

  • I don't think this addresses the question, which is about correlation. You are not even mentioning the term... – Sklivvz Sep 25 '12 at 0:21
  • I've updated my answer. – Cees Timmerman Sep 25 '12 at 8:43
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    This is based off of a model who "studied calculus in high school". It's pretty bad that she would fall for the whole "modern Western beauty standards are rooted in evolution" evo psych B.S., but it's worse that a skeptic would do so too. Check your sources. – Eva Mar 7 '13 at 2:31
  • @Eva, you mean Pamela Pallett and Stephen Link of UC San Diego and Kang Lee of the University of Toronto? Please be specific in your criticism and don't resort to ad hominem. – Cees Timmerman Mar 7 '13 at 9:45
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    I meant Shelly GoodStein, the model you cited. That really reveals that you didn't actually check your sources. I don't see anywhere where I attacked you character. (That's what ad hominem means in case you didn't know.) – Eva Mar 8 '13 at 3:26

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