Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Social psychology: Altruism · Attribution · Attitudes · Conformity · Discrimination · Groups · Interpersonal relations · Obedience · Prejudice · Norms · Perception · Index · Outline

For beauty as a quality of a person's appearance see: Physical attractiveness.

Red rose

Humans have perceived the rose as a natural beauty as evidenced in social media.

Beauty is a quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (such as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (such as personality).[1] Said another way, "beauty" is a quality of a person, object, place, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure, affirmation, meaning, or goodness. The subjective experience of "beauty" often involves the interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature. This leads to powerful feelings of attraction and emotional well-being.

In its most profound sense, beauty may engender a salient experience of positive reflection about the meaning of one's own existence. An "object of beauty" is anything that reveals or resonates with personal meaning. Hence religious and moral teachings often focus on the divinity and virtue of beauty, and to assert natural beauty as an aspect of a spirituality and truth.

The antonym of beauty is ugliness, i.e. the perceived opposite of beauty, which stimulates displeasure and engenders a deeply negative perception of the object.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a common phrase attributed to this concept.[2]


Understanding the nature and meaning of beauty is one of the key themes in the philosophical discipline known as aesthetics. The composer and critic Robert Schumann distinguished between two kinds of beauty, natural and poetic. The former is found in the contemplation of nature, whereas the latter lies in man's conscious, creative intervention into nature. Schumann indicated that in music, or other art, both kinds of beauty appear, but natural beauty is merely sensual delight. Poetic beauty begins where the natural beauty leaves off.

Nymph with morning glory flowers

A nymph with morning glory flowers by Lefebvre. The image of the young woman is a symbol of human beauty in the West, and a dominant theme in western art.

A common idea suggests that beauty exists in the appearance of things and people that are good. A good apple will be perceived as more beautiful than a bruised one. Also, most people judge physically attractive human beings to be good, both physically and on a deeper level. Specifically, they are believed to possess a variety of positive traits and personality characteristics.[3]

The stereotype, "beauty is good" has many significant counter examples. These include such things as a glacier, or a ruggedly dry desert mountain range. Many people find beauty in hostile nature, but this can be bad, or at least unrelated to any sense of goodness. Another type of counterexample are comic or sarcastic works of art, which can be good, but are rarely beautiful. Additionally, people may be good and not beautiful, or beautiful but not good.

Further, people's skills can develop and change their sense of beauty. Carpenters may view an out-of-true building as ugly, and many master carpenters can see out-of-true angles as small as half a degree. Many musicians can likewise hear as dissonant a tone that's high or low by as little as two percent of the distance to the next note. Most people have similar aesthetics about the work or hobbies they've mastered.

History of beauty[]

See also: Ideal beauty in the classical world

The earliest theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Ancient Greek architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion. Modern research also suggests that people whose facial features are symmetric and proportioned according the golden ratio are more attractive than those whose faces are not.


Images of beauty from Hasht-Behesht palace in Iran.

Beauty, throughout history, generally has been associated with that which is good. Likewise, the polar opposite of beauty is generally considered to be ugly and is often associated with evil. Evil witches, for example, are often depicted with unpleasant physical features and personalities. This contrast is epitomized by classic stories such as Sleeping Beauty. Likewise, beauty according to Goethe, from his 1809 Elective Affinities, is “everywhere a welcome guest”. Goethe stated that human beauty “acts with far greater force on both inner and outer senses, so that he who beholds it is exempt from evil and feels in harmony with himself and with the world.”

Symmetry may be important because it is evident that the person grew up in a healthy way, without visible genetic defects. Although style and fashion vary widely, cross-cultural research has found a variety of commonalities in people's perception of beauty. Large eyes and a clear complexion, for example, are considered beautiful in both men and women in all cultures. Some researchers have suggested that neonatal features are inherently attractive and thus likely to be found beautiful. Youthfulness in general is associated with beauty.

There is good evidence that a preference for beautiful faces emerges early in child development, and that the standards of attractiveness are similar across different cultures. Averageness, symmetry, and sexual dimorphism may have an evolutionary basis for determining beauty. Meta-analyses of the empirical research indicate that all three are attractive in both male and female faces and across a variety of cultures.[4] Facial attractiveness may be an adaptation for mate choice because symmetry and the absence of blemishes signal important aspects of mate quality, such as health. It is also possible that these preferences are simply by-products of the way our brains process information.

David von Michelangelo

A famous depiction of male beauty in Michelangelo's David.

The foundations laid by Greek and Roman artists have also supplied the standard for male beauty in western civilization. The ideal Roman was defined as tall, muscular, long-legged, with a full head of thick hair, a high and wide forehead – a sign of intelligence – wide-set eyes, a strong browline, a strong perfect nose and profile, a smaller mouth, and a strong jaw line. This combination of factors would, as it does today, produce an impressive "grand" look of handsome masculinity. With the notable exceptions of body weight and fashion styles, standards of beauty are rather constant over time and place.

In ancient Chinese writing the sign that means "beautiful" is made by combining two other signs that mean "big" and "sheep". One possible explanation for this is that big sheep were representative of beauty.

Theories of beauty[]

Human beauty[]

The characterization of a person as “beautiful”, whether on an individual basis or by community consensus, is often based on some combination of inner beauty, which includes psychological factors such as personality, intelligence, grace, and elegance, and outer beauty, which includes physical factors, such as health, youthfulness, symmetry, averageness, and complexion.

A common way to measure outer beauty, as based on community consensus, or general opinion, is to stage a beauty pageant, such as Miss Universe. Inner beauty, however, is more difficult to quantify, though beauty pageants often claim to take this into consideration as well. Many people will agree that Mother Teresa, for example, was a beautiful person, but such general measures are hard to define. Likewise, Helen of Troy was often described as being a magnificent beauty. Outer physical appearance does not necessarily predetermine the measure of a person’s perceptual beauty, which may perceptually change, in people’s minds, based on inner personal qualities.

A strong indicator of physical beauty is "averageness". When images of human faces are averaged together to form a composite image, they become progressively closer to the "ideal" image and are perceived as more attractive. This was first noticed in 1883, when Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, overlayed photographic composite images of the faces of vegetarians and criminals to see if there was a typical facial appearance for each. When doing this, he noticed that the composite images were more attractive, than as compared to any of the individual images. Researchers have replicated the result under more controlled conditions and found that the computer generated, mathematical average of a series of faces is rated more favorably than individual faces.[5]

Another feature of beautiful women that has been explored by researchers is a waist-to-hip ratio of approximately 0.70 for women. The concept of waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) was developed by psychologist Devendra Singh of the University of Texas at Austin. Physiologists have shown that this ratio accurately indicates most women's fertility. Traditionally, in premodern ages when food was more scarce, fat people were judged more attractive than slender.

Effects on society[]

Beauty presents a standard of comparison, and it can cause resentment and dissatisfaction when not achieved. Beauty has inspired humans throughout history, but the quest for beauty has also led to eating disorders. Too much emphasis on superficial beauty can undermine the importance of the inner person. It can become an arbitrary value that leads to social inequity.

Researchers have found that good looking students get higher grades from their teachers than students with an ordinary appearance. Furthermore, attractive patients receive more personalized care from their doctors. Studies have even shown that handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts. How much money a person earns may also be influenced by physical beauty. One study found that people low in physical attractiveness earn 5 to 10 percent less than ordinary looking people, who in turn earn 3 to 8 percent less than those who are considered good looking.[6] Discrimination against others based on their appearance is known as lookism.

In a different context, the term "beautiful people" is used to refer to those who closely follow trends in fashion, physical appearance, food, wine, automobiles, and real estate, often at a considerable financial cost. Such people often mirror in appearance and consumer choices the characteristics and purchases of wealthy actors and actresses, models, or other celebrities. The term "beautiful people" originally referred to the musicians, actors and celebrities of the California "Flower Power" generation of the 1960s. The Beatles reference the original "beautiful people" in their 1967 song "Baby You're a Rich Man" on the Magical Mystery Tour album. With the close of the 1960s, the concept of beautiful people gradually came to encompass fashionistas and the "hip" people of New York City, expanding to its modern definition. Beautiful people usually enjoy an image-based and/or financially-based prestige which enhances their aura of success, power, and beauty.

Cultural representation of beauty[]

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:


File:Abraham Lincoln by George Peter Alexander Healy.jpg

Abraham Lincoln, official white house protrait by George Peter Alexander Healy.

Ugliness is a property of a person or thing that is unpleasant to look upon and results in a highly unfavorable evaluation. To be ugly is to be aesthetically unattractive, repulsive, or offensive.[7] Like its opposite, beauty, ugliness involves a subjective judgment and is at least partly in the "eye of the beholder." Thus, the perception of ugliness can be mistaken or short-sighted, as in the story of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen.

People who appear ugly to others suffer well-documented discrimination, earning 10 to 15 percent less per year than similar workers, and are less likely to be hired for almost any job, but lack legal recourse to fight discrimination.[8]

Although ugliness is normally viewed as a visible characteristic, it can also be an internal attribute. For example, an individual could be outwardly attractive but inwardly thoughtless and cruel. It is also possible to be in an "ugly mood," which is a temporary, internal state of unpleasantness, or may refer to the way one views themselves at the moment.

For some people, ugliness is a central aspect of their persona. Jean-Paul Sartre had a lazy eye and a bloated, asymmetrical face, and he attributed many of his philosophical ideas to his life-long struggle to come to terms with his self-described ugliness.[9] Socrates also used his ugliness as a philosophical touch point, concluding that philosophy can save us from our outward ugliness.[9] Famous in his own time for his perceived ugliness, Abraham Lincoln was described by a contemporary: "to say that he is ugly is nothing; to add that his figure is grotesque, is to convey no adequate impression." However, his looks proved to be an asset in his personal and political relationships, as his law partner William Herndon wrote, "He was not a pretty man by any means, nor was he an ugly one; he was a homely man, careless of his looks, plain-looking and plain-acting. He had no pomp, display, or dignity, so-called. He appeared simple in his carriage and bearing. He was a sad-looking man; his melancholy dripped from him as he walked. His apparent gloom impressed his friends, and created sympathy for him - one means of his great success."[10]

See also[]


  1. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
  3. Dion, K. K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.
  4. Rhodes, G. (2006). The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 199-226.
  5. Langlois, J. H., Roggman, L. A., & Musselman, L. (1994). What is average and what is not average about attractive faces? Psychological Science, 5, 214-220.
  6. Lorenz, K. (2005). "Do pretty people earn more?" CNN News, Time Warner.
  7. Webster's New World College Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1995.
  8. includeonly>Hamermesh, Daniel. "Ugly? You May Have a Case", August 27, 2011. Retrieved on 28 August 2011.
  9. 9.0 9.1 includeonly>Martin, Andy. "The Phenomenology of Ugly", 'The New York Times', August 10, 2010. Retrieved on 24 August 2010.
  10. Carpenter, F. B. (1866). Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln, New York: Hurd and Houghton.

External links[]

Look up this page on
Wiktionary: Beauty