Study Blends Thousands of Faces To Find What World’s Women Look Like
- Pictures of hundreds of women were used to create an average
- Images of women from 41 different ethnicities were laid over one another before a computer programme deduced the common look
- Study by experimental psychologists at the University of Glasgow in Scotland
If you were described as average-looking, you probably wouldn’t see it as a compliment. But perhaps you would be happy if you looked like any of these computer-generated depictions of the ‘average woman’. With flawless skin, youthful faces and bright eyes – these average faces of women from around the world are nothing short of beautiful.
They were created by scientists, who used hundreds of pictures of women from all over the world. Experimental psychologists at the University of Glasgow photographed women from 41 different nationalities and ethnicities for the experiment. Using a modern version of the technique that anthropologist Sir Francis Galton pioneered in the late 19th century, multiple images were carefully laid over one another using a computer technology.
Using the eyes of the women as a focus, it then worked out the average look of each woman from every region but analyzing their faces. The method – called ‘composite portraiture’ – and was first used in the 1880s by Sir Francis Galton. The social scientist and cousin of Charles Darwin first created the image of the average face by superimposing multiple portraits of individuals.
The technique has been used ever since, particularly in the study of ‘attractiveness’ – which studies people’s perception of beauty. However, the results have attracted some controversy – with many saying the results do not reflect reality especially as the ‘common’ faces are all beautiful.
While many agree that it does make sense the women are all pretty – because averages rule out blemishes – many are perplexed that the women all seem to be in her early twenties – not the average age of any nationality. Those behind the project say that many of the criticisms are explained by the process.
Instead of having a lot of blurry images with undefined features, they say the method averages the shape of the features before blending the images together. Some anomalies can be explained by how the pictures were compiled. The prevalence of mousy hair is a result of blondeness being easily ‘diluted’. Other results also suggest that the study has a few imperfections. The average South African, for example, should not be pale-skinned as only 9.2 per cent of the population define themselves as white.
The project was inspired by the work of South African photographer Mike Mike – who created a web project several years ago called The Face of Tomorrow. The project saw the photographer compile a collection of people’s faces from various cities for a final project while he was studying at Goldsmith’s University in London:
‘Sitting on the underground train, I was intrigued by the sheer diversity of the place – Somalis, Indians, Americans, Zimbabweans, Scandinavians and a hundred other nationalities vying for their place in the metropolis. I thought: What is this place, what is a Londoner? If one could merge all the people in a place like London one would be looking at the future of that place – one would have some notion of what a Londoner is or will become.’
FINDING THE AVERAGE – A TECHNIQUE USED FOR A CENTURY
Anthropologist Sir Francis Galton – who was also the cousin of Charles Darwin – pioneered the method of ‘composite portraiture’ in the 1880s. He superimposed multiple portraits of individuals’ faces together to create an average. All of the portraits were registered on the subject’s eyes and the rest of the face was created around them.
The faces have been the topic of fierce debate over the last hundred years, with much psychological research focusing on the attractiveness of the face and why different people find one more attractive than the other. Other psychologists, including Sigmund Freud in his work On Dreams, picked up Galton’s suggestion that these composites might represent a useful metaphor for an ideal type or a concept of a ‘natural kind’.
To this day, the method is still used by scientists studying attractiveness and beauty – although computer programs have replaced much of the original methods used at the turn of the 19th century.
If you ask me, I think most of the women pictured bear a striking resemblance to Ashley Judd.