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We know that beauty standards change over time. But it turns out that the perception about whom we find attractive, those we believe to be our “type”, can change much faster than we have thought so far. Even in an instant.
It is often thought that the millennia of natural selection have programmed us to always lean toward certain traits such as, for example, facial symmetry.
We know that our beauty standards change over time, but it has always been believed that these variations occurred in the long term and as a response to what the media project or whatever the fashion at that time.
Many, even knowing that our ideal of beauty can be different from others, we have a “kind of person” who we like and that is also a permanent constant in our lives.
But in reality, we can change tastes, or “type” much more often than we think. Our beauty standards do not just change in months or years, they can do it in a matter of seconds.
“Beauty is still a key factor but our research suggests that what we consider beauty can change constantly,” says Haiyang Yang, assistant professor at the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, and author of study that found that our idea of beauty can change according to the opinions of other people.
“It can be said that the arrival of the internet is causing people to change their beauty standards faster than ever.”
Maybe the fault is the images of other people with whom we are constantly bombarded today and also, it is true, the applications and dating websites.
Change of preferences
Recent studies show that not only does our opinion about the attractiveness of a person change quickly, but that a face is attractive or not depending on the faces we have seen before.
And the images in a page of appointments or in an application follow one another constantly and the change of opinion takes place in microseconds .
In a study at the University of Sydney, female participants rated 60 men as “attractive” or “unattractive” after images of their faces appeared on a screen for about a third of a second.
The researchers found that participants were more likely to rate a face as attractive if they thought the former was also attractive.
And the opposite happened: they were more likely to describe a face as unattractive if they thought the previous face was too.
In another experiment, when a group of men saw 242 female faces and were asked to rate their attractiveness on a scale of one to eight, the result was that they rated people as more or less beautiful based on their previous responses. .
Everything can be explained by the way the brain handles new information.
“Your brain can not process all the information that flows continuously through the eyes, so where you can make shortcuts,” says Jessica Taubert, lead author of the study at the University of Sydney,
“Your brain uses the previous visual signals so you do not have to constantly re-analyze the information it receives.”
In this case, the shortcut used is what scientists call “serial dependence”: we expect the physical state of an object to remain stable for a period of time.
For example, when you look at a cup of coffee and look away, you expect it to remain the same when you look again.
Something similar happens with dating applications.
As millions of people review the profiles of future candidates, their brains assume that the image they will see below will remain the same as the previous one . If they considered the person in the previous image attractive, they are more likely to look attractive to the next.
Their brains have not had time to re-analyze the information as a new face belonging to another person, so they perceive the next face in the same way as the last.
“The fact that our brains adapt quickly to our visual environment is not new, the new thing is the speed at which our environment can change, ” says Teresa Pegors, former assistant professor of psychology at Azusa Pacific University (United States). co-author of the study.
“This can make our beauty ideal change constantly and it is a piece, although certainly not the only or the most important, in the equation of why it is harder to be happy with a single long-term partner,” believes Pegors.
A second or glance
If you like more the people you find on the internet than the one you meet in the real world, there may also be another reason. It has to do with the speed with which you click on your options .
The researchers found that when we see someone quickly, we are more likely to find them more attractive than if we look at them for a longer period of time.
This phenomenon occurs because every time we see something, we are not simply seeing it, we are also attributing a judgment to it about its value.
In this way, the people we consider attractive believe that they have a greater value because they have the potential to be a possible partner or companion.
And so, given the limited information that emerges from the quick look we give a dating application, our brains are predisposed to perceive the most important option: the appeal .
“If you accidentally think someone is more attractive than they really are, all you need is a second look to correct your error,” says David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University and co-author of the study.
“But if you accidentally underestimate its appeal, that could lead to the loss of a potential partner.”
The ‘glance effect’ can occur when users swipe the screen too fast in dating applications. The brain does not have time to fully digest all the information it receives in such a short time, so it feeds on assumptions.
We already knew that our environment and context influences the way we perceive the world and even our mood and the actions of others. It has always been this way.
But when in particular it is about seeing potential life partners , we are dealing with much more information, provided at a much faster pace than ever before and that makes our own perceptions fluctuate more quickly.
Pegors sees a potential advantage: all this shows that we can change our brain by exposing ourselves to different information.
“Our visual perception of beauty changes with each face we see, which means we can make our beauty standard more realistic by simply changing our visual experiences,” he says.
” We are not ‘trapped’ with an impossible beauty standard , ” he says.
All that is required is to disconnect from our favorite dating application … which, of course, may be easier said than done.