Wednesday, August 23, 2006
According to psychologists at Princeton University, we judge the character of a new face in one-tenth of a second.
Specifically, 200 college students who viewed photographs decided whether the person imaged was attractive and trustworthy in less time than it takes to sneeze.
Given more time to think, the decisions only became firmer.
Other scientists have determined that in cultures around the world, what is considered most attractive is an average of the population features. That is, a nose too long or too short was not ideal, but the nose in the middle was.
So, what the Princeton students were deciding in a split second was how closely the faces were to our idea of beauty. And our idea of beauty is essentially the least extraordinary.
Beauty and truth, as John Keats poetically pointed out, are closely entwined, making it easy to see why attractive people seem more trustworthy.
Also, being able to decide instantly whether a person is likely to be friend or foe is a clear advantage in survival and mating.
However interesting this research is, it ignores what makes humans human: language. We may find someone attractive until she starts to talk. Likewise, someone may seem unattractive, but he might have a great sense of humor (which women claim to find attractive.)
If you look in a mirror, what do you think?
Fear's a funny thing.
We tend to have a cockeyed list of worries.
We fear death, although as far as we know, everyone's doing it.
We worry about who's going to win "American Idol," or what's going on with the people on "Lost."
We worry about why our next door neighbor's lawn looks like a putting green, while the one behind the house is a ragged patch of Mohave Desert.
Can we afford to send our daughter to college? Can we afford obedience school for the dog? We worry because we do not understand what the financial planner is talking about.
Was it a mistake to paint the new window glazing with latex primer?
Most of those aren't worth the adrenaline.
To mis-paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt loosely, what we have to fear the most is what other people fear.
Prevention magazine presumably conducted a poll or lifted numbers from a government report on the five top health fears of women.
The number one fear is breast cancer, followed by HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, and ovarian cancer. What they should worry about is heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes.
Why not worry about all 10?
If you really want to worry about something, consider that according to Prevention, 61 percent of people queried said losing a pet would be more traumatic than getting laid off.
(These are people who've owned a pet -- but never been fired.)