It is all in the face: carotenoid skin coloration loses attractiveness outside the face

C. E. Lefevre, M. P. Ewbank, A. J. Calder, E. von dem Hagen, D. I. Perrett


Recently, the importance of skin colour for facial attractiveness has been recognized. In particular, dietary carotenoid-induced skin colour has been proposed as a signal of health and therefore attractiveness. While perceptual results are highly consistent, it is currently not clear whether carotenoid skin colour is preferred because it poses a cue to current health condition in humans or whether it is simply seen as a more aesthetically pleasing colour, independently of skin-specific signalling properties. Here, we tested this question by comparing attractiveness ratings of faces to corresponding ratings of meaningless scrambled face images matching the colours and contrasts found in the face. We produced sets of face and non-face stimuli with either healthy (high-carotenoid coloration) or unhealthy (low-carotenoid coloration) colour and asked participants for attractiveness ratings. Results showed that, while for faces increased carotenoid coloration significantly improved attractiveness, there was no equivalent effect on perception of scrambled images. These findings are consistent with a specific signalling system of current condition through skin coloration in humans and indicate that preferences are not caused by sensory biases in observers.

  • Received July 12, 2013.
  • Accepted November 8, 2013.
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