What makes a woman look aloof



P.M. History
May 2002

Does appearance shape character?

"All well and good" - Kalos kai agathos ": Even for the ancient Greeks these qualities belonged together. The Regensburg psychologist Prof. Dr. Alf Zimmer explains what is behind this idea. The interview was conducted by Stefan Primbs.

The specialist: University Rector Alf Zimmer, Professor of General and Applied Psychology. He was in charge of the "Beautycheck" study (see box).

HISTORY: Lavater wanted to identify traits in facial features. Is it really that ridiculous?

Zimmer: In particular, observations such as those Lavater made can by all means be correct. It is even the case that facial expressions can have an effect on the mood. Some depressed people, for example, find it helpful to consciously smile in a good mood in front of the mirror. It gets bad when one generalizes observations and believes that they can explain everything. The animal comparisons, already ridiculed by Lavater's contemporaries, should not be overestimated; in my opinion, he understood them more as a reminder.

HISTORY: Everyone wants to be beautiful. But what distinguishes a "beautiful" person? Are there characteristics that span cultures and times?

Zimmer: I do believe that there are general criteria. As a rule, the "beautiful" face shape will indicate health, that is, it should not be disfigured by diseases. In the case of female faces, the appearance of youthfulness is particularly important. Wrinkles or angular noses, on the other hand, are perceived as unattractive because they are more a sign of age.

HISTORY: A study by your students has shown that their fellow human beings also attribute positive character traits to the beautiful. Only honesty seems to bring people less strongly into connection with the outside world. Why?
Zimmer: My hypothesis: In the meantime cosmetics play such a big role - for example in the complexion - that today beauty is no longer perceived as an expression of the innermost self, but often as a mask, a lie, so to speak.

HISTORY: Where does the age-old belief come from that a beautiful exterior also corresponds to a good interior?

Zimmer: There are probably two things behind it: On the one hand, the facial expression actually changes over time, that frequent frown lines are expressed in forehead lines and frequent laughter is expressed in laugh lines, or that the corners of the mouth pulled down out of disgust can dig into the face . The inner state that evokes these facial expressions is actually reflected a little on the face. On the other hand, there is a bad feedback process: Those who are considered ugly and are socially disadvantaged for this may feel that they themselves are entitled to anti-social behavior. This can start with children who are teased because of protruding ears or long noses. For example, if a redhead is portrayed as a thief just because of the color of his hair - no matter what he does - then he might say to himself: "I can steal right away."


Research in the shopping center (above): 500 representatively selected visitors rated faces on the computer (left) according to their beauty and criteria such as intelligence, honesty or professional success.

Brigitte Bardot with baby face: The slightly open mouth, a characteristic of the toddler, looks youthful and therefore sexy - but also naive.

HISTORY: According to the study, attractive women are also considered to be more intelligent than unattractive ones - on the other hand, the film used the cliché of attractive "dummies" for a long time - a contradiction?

Zimmer: That's because - as already mentioned - beauty is associated with youth, especially in women. Characteristics from childhood and pre-puberty come into play, which are commonly associated with naivety. A permanently slightly open mouth, for example, characterizes small children and therefore does not represent intelligence, but pin-ups or Marylin Monroe regularly posed with it.

HISTORY: Those who are beautiful are also rated as successful and hard-working. How important is that for your career?

Zimmer: That does play a role. In America, female trainers allow female applicants to be styled into a "typical successful woman" in order to survive an interview, and more recently, men too. And there is also something to it: Those who have been preferred from childhood because of their appearance in dealing with their fellow human beings will probably also move more confidently in society and can react more competently - this is only beneficial for professional advancement.

HISTORY: So will we all soon have to be styled and re-operated according to an ideal image if we want to achieve something?

Zimmer: At the moment, we almost only see cover photos on the magazines that have been embellished with the computer. According to my observation, the women on it are visually getting closer and closer. I believe this trend won't last. Because on the other hand, there is a longing for something specific: character. And a character head is not necessarily a beautiful head. And today not only people like the Telekom boss Ron Sommer, who corresponds to the ideal of beauty, come to the boardrooms, but also a Jack Welch (ex-boss of General Electric, the toughest manager in the world; d. Red.) which certainly does not correspond to this.

HISTORY: Professor Zimmer, thank you for talking to us.

Lavaters Erben: These young scientists received a study award for the study "Beautycheck". From left: Christoph Scherber, Claus Marberger, Martin Gründl and Christoph Braun.

A narrow face makes boys and girls look smarter

Praise be for what makes you beautiful! Because someone who is beautiful is also considered intelligent, successful and satisfied - says a study

"The results are shockingly clear," comment the four young scientists from Regensburg, Christoph Braun. Martin Gründl. Claus Marberger and Christoph Scherber (the only biologist besides the three psychologists) presented the results of their large-scale study "Beautycheck - causes and consequences of attractiveness".

To do this, the researchers had the faces of models and "normal" people photographed and then created dozens of mixtures from these photos by the computer. They then presented these images to 500 selected test subjects in a shopping mall for assessment. They didn't just choose based on their beauty, they should also click on how personable, intelligent, creative, exciting, accessible, hardworking or sociable they consider the respective person in the photo to be. Bottom line: The same faces that people labeled attractive were also given all the other positive traits. "So beautiful people have a big bonus in life," say the researchers.

Your consolation for all those who cannot find themselves in the "sexy faces": The Regensburg results were probably only so clear because the pictures showed standardized faces at rest. Such important things as a sympathetic smile, but also jewelry, clothing, cosmetics or hairstyle could not influence the results. So many blemishes could be made up for.

The study with many pictures and examples can be viewed on the Internet (www.beautycheck.de).


A narrow face, darker skin, fuller lips: these are just a few of the characteristics that make men and women appear attractive. These faces, calculated by the computer, not only look "sexy", they also exude hard work, intelligence, success, creativity and satisfaction.

Not exactly flattering: computer-generated prototypes of a man and a woman who were rated by the test subjects as unsuccessful, dissatisfied, unsympathetic, stupid, aloof, unsociable and boring. The researchers see this as confirmation that old prejudices live on in us.


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Last modified: 2003-06-09, webmaster