Do You Think You Are More Attractive Than You Really Are?

by | Dec 5, 2018


A human characteristic is that we generally have positive self-perception. This often leads to a self-enhancement bias whereby we think we are better than we really are. Our conscious and subconscious impressions of ourselves tend to be positive.

An interesting  study by researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Virginia delved into self-enhancement bias in terms of how we view our own attractiveness. Th researchers took photos of undergraduate students with a neutral facial expression, and then invited these same students back to the laboratory two to four weeks later. Upon the return visit they asked the students to identify their actual face out of an assortment of eleven possible images. But here’s the interesting part: these other images were in fact the actual face of each student morphed to varying degrees by making them more or less attractive via computer imaging. Details:

[The] participants’ facial images were morphed in 10% increments (up to 50%) with a highly attractive or unattractive same-gender target face. The attractive targets (male and female) were composite images of several dozen faces, and the unattractive targets were individuals suffering from craniofacial syndrome


In other words, the students were asked to identify their actual picture out of eleven pictures where 10 of them were altered to make them more or less attractive. 

The results? The participants were significantly more likely to choose a more attractive morphed face as being their actual face than even their nonmorphed actual face! The authors conclude, “It is perhaps of little wonder, then,that people so rarely seem to like the photographs taken of themselves. The image captured by the camera lens just doesn’t match up to the image captured in the mind’s eye.” No wonder so many people have trouble settling on a decent picture of themselves to use on their Facebook page. 

Related IFOD on Symmetry and Beauty.

Related IFOD on Implicit Egotism


  1. Dostoyevski in one of his novels, (can’t recall which because I read them all so long ago) wrote that a great artist can capture a person’s essence whereas a photographer often cannot “because people rarely looks like themselves”. I have pondered that a long time… and I think there is some truth in it. Perhaps the experiment you describe here was biased away from the true photo for which they were instructed to have a neutral facial expression.

    • That is an interesting point. The study is interesting as they do consider different reasons why this effect might occur other than self-enhancement bias. For instance, from the paper: “Although consistent with our hypotheses, readers
      might be concerned that this experiment used partici-pants’ actual photograph rather than their mirror image, and they may entertain alternative interpretations of our results based on this feature. We see no theoretical reason to expect this to be an important boundary condition for self-enhanced recognition. To examine this generalizability directly, we simply conducted a small follow-up with 15 particpants from the University of Chicago using their mirror image in the same morphing procedure described in Experiment 1 [and found same results].”

      They then performed the experiment again with friends and romantic partners and with strangers. They found the enhancement effect with friends and loved ones but not with strangers – showing than enhancement extends beyond just ourselves.



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