People Remember Unattractive Faces More Than Attractive Ones
Great eyes, full lips and harmonious features: actress Angelina Jolie is in possession of all of these. That she is regarded as the epitome of female attractiveness doesn’t come as a surprise for Dr. Holger Wiese of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). “Her features combine many factors which contribute to the attractiveness of a face,” the psychologist says. In his research, he mostly deals with the perception of faces.
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But this isn’t generally true for all attractive people – as Wiese and his colleagues, Carolin Altmann and Professor Dr. Stefan Schweinberger have shown in the new study. “We could show that the test subjects were more likely to remember unattractive faces than attractive ones, when the latter didn’t have any particularly noticeable traits,” Holger Wiese says.
For their research the psychologists of Jena University showed photos of faces to their test subjects. One half of the faces were considered as being more attractive, the other half as less attractive and all of them were being thought of as similarly distinctive looking. The test subjects were shown the faces only for a few seconds to memorize them. During the ensuing test phase they were again shown faces and they had to decide if they recognized them.
The scientists were surprised by the result: “Until now we assumed that it was generally easier to memorize faces, which are being perceived as attractive – just because we prefer looking at beautiful faces,“ according to Wiese. But the new scientific results are showing that such a correlation cannot be easily sustained. Moreover, Wiese and his colleagues assume that the recognition in the case of attractive faces is distorted by emotional influences which exacerbate the recognition at a later time. This is suggested by evidence from the EEG-recordings during the memory tests.
Additionally the Jena psychologists’ study revealed a further interesting secondary aspect: In the case of attractive faces, scientists detected considerably more false positive results. In other words: in the test phase the test persons stated that they recognized a face without having seen it before. “We obviously tend to believe that we recognize a face just because we find it attractive,“ Wiese supposes.
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Story Source: Materials provided by Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Holger Wiese, Carolin S. Altmann, Stefan R. Schweinberger. Effects of attractiveness on face memory separated from distinctiveness: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Neuropsychologia, 2014