Have you ever gazed at both sides of your face in the mirror, trying to determine your “best” side? New research says you need gaze no more. The left side probably looks better, according to a new study released April 20, 2012. Kelsey Blackburn and James Schirillo from Wake Forest University say their work shows that images of the left side of the face are perceived and rated as more pleasant than pictures of the right side of the face. They suggest the difference might be due to a greater intensity of emotion exhibited on our left sides. Their work is published online in the journal Experimental Brain Research.
The researchers asked participants to rate the attractiveness of both sides of male and female faces on gray-scale photographs. To prevent bias for a particular side of the face, the researchers presented both original photographs and mirror-reversed images, so that an original right-cheek image appeared to be a left-cheek image and vice versa.
They found a strong preference for the left side of faces, regardless of whether the pictures were originally taken of the left side or mirror-reversed. The left side of the face was rated as more aesthetically pleasing for both men and women.
The researchers confirmed their results by measuring pupil sizes of the participants. It’s known that the pupils of your eye dilate when you look at something interesting – in this case, better-looking faces – and constrict when looking at unpleasant images. In this study, participants’ pupil sizes increased when looking at the left side of faces.
The authors said in their press release:
Our results suggest that posers’ left cheeks tend to exhibit a greater intensity of emotion, which observers find more aesthetically pleasing. Our findings provide support for a number of concepts – the notions of lateralized emotion and right hemispheric dominance with the right side of the brain controlling the left side of the face during emotional expression.
The idea that we show more emotion on one side of our faces isn’t new, by the way. It’s part of a larger study of what is called emotional lateralization – the idea that the two sides of our brains process and control emotion differently. I don’t know much about it, and the field is not well understood by scientists, but if you wanted to learn more, emotional lateralization are the buzzwords to employ in an online search.
While you’re thinking about all this, you might also want to check out at the portrait collection assembled by artist Julian Wolkenstein – made with an app called Echoism.
Wolkenstein used this app – which will take your picture, split the image into a left and a right section, then mirror the two split images to create two separate, symmetrical identities for you. One shows what you’d look like if your face consisted of two left sides. The other shows you with two right sides.
Wolkenstein’s portraits have a strange beauty, I think, but then he chose beautiful people to photograph. When I downloaded the app and tried it on myself, the results were disquieting. In our modern world, facial symmetry is sometimes said to equal beauty. After seeing the Echoism portrait of the left side of my face duplicated on both sides, I think I’ll just be happy with my face’s original asymmetry.
Bottom line: Chances are, the left side of your face is more appealing, according to a study released online by Springer’s journal Experimental Brain Research on April 20, 2012. Kelsey Blackburn and James Schirillo from Wake Forest University say their work shows that images of the left side of the face are perceived and rated as more pleasant than pictures of the right side of the face. They suggest the difference might be due to a greater intensity of emotion exhibited on our left sides.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.