People Prefer Familiar Faces Interview with:

Carlota Batres PhD Postdoctoral fellow at Gettysburg College

Dr. Batres

Carlota Batres PhD
Postdoctoral fellow at Gettysburg College What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The background for this study is that previous research has found that individuals from rural areas prefer heavier women than individuals from urban areas. Several explanations have been proposed to explain these preference differences: media exposure, differing optimal weights for different environments, and urbanization. In this study, we investigated familiarity as a possible explanation by examining participants’ face preferences while also examining the facial characteristics of the actual participants.

The main finding of this study is that familiarity appears to be contributing to our facial preferences. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Readers should take away that our findings suggest that familiarity may be contributing to the differences found in face preferences between rural and urban areas given that people from rural and urban areas are exposed to different faces.

Our results showed that participants from rural areas preferred heavier-looking female faces than participants from urban areas. We also found that the female faces from the rural areas were rated as looking heavier than the female faces from the urban areas. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Given our findings, future research that examines preferences should also examine the facial characteristics that make up such populations. It would also be interesting for future research to examine how face preferences change as people migrate between areas that differ in the visual appearance of the population but do not differ in other factors known to influence face preferences (e.g., media, stress, violence). Such distinctions would help us better understand the role that familiarity plays in what it is that we find attractive. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: We found that the females from the rural areas were rated as looking heavier than the females from the urban areas in both Malaysia and El Salvador, however, their body mass indexes did not differ. One possible explanation for this is that prolonged exposure to cortisol (a hormone produced in response to stressors) leads to higher fat deposition on the side of the face, and since rural environments tend to be harsher than urban environments, women in rural areas may store higher levels of fat in their faces even if they do not have a higher level of fat overall. Past research has found that people can accurately estimate a person’s weight based on their face alone.

Our results, however, provide evidence that this finding cannot be generalized between subpopulations, which has important implications for future research investigating weight preferences through the use of faces. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Carlota Batres et al. Familiarity with Own Population’s Appearance Influences Facial Preferences, Human Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s12110-017-9289-8

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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