Sunday, May 4, 2014

Average = Beautiful?

Tom's stroke resulted in very specific brain damage.  In every way he was normal except in his ability to connect names with things.  When asked to draw a picture of a rose, what he drew was definitely a flower, but his flower didn't exist on earth.  The type of flower he drew was actually a rare glimpse into the human brain; it was the "average" of all flowers he had ever seen.  The way our brain remembers things is to create a composite picture of the "type" of thing.  Seeing new flowers is simply processing the differences.  Our brains do the same thing with faces.

In separate research, a number of photographs of faces is averaged using a computer.  The mouth, nose and eyes are average size.  The eyes are an average distance apart, etc.  Most people find the resulting "average" face more attractive than any of the original faces.

In the context of both of these ideas, the phrase "easy on the eyes" makes sense.  Someone with an attractive face resembles the average in our brain and requires less brain power for processing; literally their face is "easier" to look at.

So this got me thinking about the broader context.  What about people that look different from our "average"?  Is it really that they are "unattractive" or is it that our "average" is too narrowly focused?  If this applies to flowers and faces, can it also apply to ideas and beliefs?  What would happen if you had a greater diversity of people you associated with and exchanged ideas with?

References
The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human, V. S. Ramachandran
Try averaging faces yourself here: http://faceresearch.org/demos/average
More info here: http://faceresearch.org/students/averageness



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