Survival of the Prettiest | Nancy L. Etcoff

Summary of: Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty
By: Nancy L. Etcoff


As you delve into the summary of ‘Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty’ by Nancy L. Etcoff, be prepared to be amazed at how powerful beauty is in shaping human perception and behavior. Discover the science behind our innate sense of beauty as a biological force and as a social construct. Witness the striking impact of attractiveness on people’s lives and society as a whole, and how deeply rooted beauty preferences are in human evolution. This summary takes you on a journey to appreciate the complexity of beauty and unravel the intricate and potent relations between biology, culture, and aesthetics.

The Elusive Definition of Beauty

The Handbook of Social Psychology, a standard reference book, has only one entry on beauty which covers “physical factors.” Social scientists have shown little interest in the subject, and the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) is to blame for this disregard. However, modern-day science now recognizes that beauty is a complex topic that cannot be separated from biology and culture. The Beauty Myth, argues that the notion of beauty is a social construct used to uphold a patriarchal society and generate profits for cosmetics companies. Yet, it is important to note that beauty has a historical dimension. The story of the formation of the human mind covers ten thousand years of evolutionary history and cannot be overlooked. Even cosmetics, with women applying makeup to signal nubility, youth, and sexual innocence, indicate the use of culturally and biologically valued attributes in beauty standards. However, the main question remains- what is beauty exactly?

The Science of Beauty

Beauty is an inborn trait that is recognizable to us from a young age. A study conducted by psychologist Judith Langlois shows that even babies ranging from three to six months of age are drawn to people that adults find attractive. This suggests that we are born with detectors and preferences for beauty. The dictionary defines beauty as “excelling in grace of form, charm of coloring, and other qualities, which delight the eye and call forth admiration.” However, beauty is not just about physical appearance; it also has a physical effect on the viewer. People may have different opinions on the definition of beauty, but they all agree that beauty is captivating.

The Power of Beauty

Humans, like animals, have evolved to recognize beauty as a sign of survival. The innate response to beautiful babies promotes tender, protective feelings, while the beauty of adults helps find high-quality mates. The more ornate the ornamentation, the stronger the set of genes passed on. Results show that the prettiest girls are more likely to get married to men with more education and income than they have.

The Science and Sociology of Beauty

Humans are wired with a universal set of sensual preferences that determine what is considered beautiful. These preferences are linked to health, fitness, and reproductive capability, making symmetrical faces and bodies, glossy hair, and smooth skin attractive. For women, a narrow waist and wide hips represent high estrogen levels and favorable reproductive capability. Science backs up the claim that a waist to hip ratio below 0.8 makes women twice as likely to become pregnant. This biological attraction explains the long-standing fashion trend of narrow waists in women’s clothing. Beauty also carries sociological impacts, such as the pressure to conform to certain standards, but our ability to recognize it has evolutionary advantages.

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