The factors influencing human female facial attractiveness—symmetry, averageness, and sexual dimorphism—have been extensively studied. However, recent studies, using improved methodologies, have called into question their evolutionary utility and links with life history. The current studies use a range of approaches to quantify how important these factors actually are in perceiving attractiveness, through the use of novel statistical analyses and by addressing methodological weaknesses in the literature. Study One examines how manipulations of symmetry, averageness, femininity, and masculinity affect attractiveness using a two-alternative forced choice task, finding that increased masculinity and also femininity decrease attractiveness, compared to unmanipulated faces. Symmetry and averageness yielded a small and large effect, respectively. Study Two utilises a naturalistic ratings paradigm, finding similar effects of averageness and masculinity as Study One but no effects of symmetry and femininity on attractiveness. Study Three applies geometric face measurements of the factors and a random forest machine learning algorithm to predict perceived attractiveness, finding that shape averageness, dimorphism, and skin texture symmetry are useful features capable of relatively accurate predictions, while shape symmetry is uninformative. However, the factors do not explain as much variance in attractiveness as the literature suggests. The implications for future research on attractiveness are discussed.
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