Symmetry, Beauty and Genetic Fitness

by | Feb 27, 2018


Look at those symmetrical people!!!

In our society, as well as most (and maybe all) others, beautiful people reap advantages denied the ugly.  Studies have shown that attractive people make more money and often have more successful careers than do the less-attractive.

Is this fair?  Or are we just shallow?  Surprisingly, research over the past 100+ years suggests that beauty, health and intelligence may be correlated.

What is beautiful?  Is it an arbitrary judgment?  Is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder? Science theorizes that a key part of beauty is symmetry.


That is a beautiful fly

Research on flies decades ago noted that the flies with the most symmetrical wings did the best when it came to mating.  Bees are attracted to symmetrical flowers as they produce more nectar. Throughout the animal kingdom the link between symmetry and mating success has been shown to exist.

Studies of what humans find to be beautiful in other humans and animals corresponds to greater symmetry. Our perceptions of beauty and symmetry are highly correlated.

Why do we prefer beauty? There may be a link between symmetry and genetic  fitness.  Maintaining symmetry in development is difficult for an embryo. Thus, embryos that produce more symmetrical people demonstrate good genes and successful cell division and reproduction. Other aspects of beauty also signal health: skin and hair are very sensitive to many underlying illnesses, malnutrition and the like.  It is thought that our perceptions of beauty are finely tuned to recognize perfection or flaws in underlying genetic traits.  Thus, preferring to mate with an attractive member of the opposite sex may be correlated to selecting a fitter genetic partner.

One aspect of genetic fitness is intelligence. Studies have shown a correlation between symmetry and/or other indications of beauty and intelligence.  In one study a person’s intelligence was found to be highly correlated with his/her bodily symmetry.  In another study a first group of volunteers were given IQ tests.  Then, the pictures of the first group were shown to a second group and the second group was asked to rank the first group in terms of intelligence.  The second group were able to correctly rank the intelligence of the members of the first group with great success (statistically significant) based just on appearance. WOW!

Some academic researchers have suggested that with all the accumulating evidence linking beauty and intelligence (and also success) that taking looks into account when hiring might be a perfectly reasonable business strategy.  Studies have shown that attractive people, in general, are more successful and generate greater revenues for their companies.  Thus, hiring a more attractive candidate may actually pay off.

Interestingly, though, we humans aren’t totally superficial.  Studies on appearance and compensation have concluded that extra spending on cosmetics and clothes had little effect on compensation.  It appears we humans can see through that sort of stuff and instead are attracted to real, underlying beauty. Therefore, beauty may be an un-fakeable signal of other, underlying genetic characteristics such as good health, good genes and intelligence.


  1. In response to Michael, I would suggest that in times past, a woman who was full figured was a sign of wealth. Also, being full figured does not mean unsymmetrical and symmetry is the important trait. Another factor, in times past, more robust people were more able to survive in a world that required more strength and wider hipped women were probably more able to survive successful births.

  2. It would be interesting to know how our perception of beauty has changed over time as well. To avoid any issues, I am going to take a quote from someone else:
    “According to much of the artwork of the era, women that had extra fat and wider hips were considered to be the most beautiful. In most of these paintings from the era, fuller figured women were shown in settings where they were courted by dashing and handsome men.”


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