Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More than Skin Deep

Aesthetic discrimination may not be as shallow as we thought. The Economist reported recently that a study conducted by researchers at the University of New Mexico suggests that beauty may actually be linked to performance on intelligence tests. The study was done to determine if there were any evolutionary reasons for discrimination based on appearance. In a culture of equal opportunity, aesthetic discrimination continues to be prevalent and legal. Looks, after all, say a lot about a person. Grooming and clothing aside, however, beauty may say more about a person than her resume. Beauty speaks to the genetic disposition of an individual, and the study suggests that intelligence can be accurately predicted solely based on appearance.

What makes an individual objectively attractive has occupied our minds for centuries. Countless previous studies of what constitutes beauty have found that symmetry is the key factor; the most recognizable illustration of this is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The Golden Ratio, Fibonacci Sequence and Divine Proportion all indicate the same thing: There is a formula for symmetry in nature and those who closely follow this formula are beautiful. For instance, both Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn had proportions which followed the Golden Ratio – despite their difference in physique.

The link between beauty and intelligence is also found in symmetry. In embryonic development, only the strongest embryos are able to maintain the best symmetry. While DNA has a symmetrical blueprint to start, only these stronger embryos retain their symmetry in the face of environmental influences such as stress, pathogens or mutation. This means symmetric individuals may have a better genetic potential to resist diseases and may have better health overall. Intelligence fits into this in the same way; intelligence is the neurological equivalent of symmetry in the body. The more symmetrical an individual, the higher their “general intelligence” was found to be. The results were tested in a group who gauged intelligence strictly based on a photo of an individual’s face. For unknown reasons, the results were more favorable with men than with women – perhaps this is the human version of the “peacock effect,” where the males display their desirable qualities more readily to attract a mate.

If beauty is found in symmetry and symmetry is indicative of intelligence, then it would follow that aesthetic discrimination in the workplace is proper. I doubt anyone will admit to going this far, but maybe beauty is more than just in the eye of the beholder.

1 comment:

Jim Chen said...

Dear Kelly,

This is a beautiful post, in every sense of the word.

I've linked to it at Jurisdynamics. I hope you like what you inspired.

Best wishes,
Jim Chen