The Psychology of Beauty

“The Psychology of Beauty” by Dr Ian Stephen of Macquarie University, Australia

The Department of Psychology at the School of Science and Technology, hosted a talk on “The Psychology of Beauty” by Dr Ian Stephen, a senior lecturer from the Department of Psychology of Macquarie University, on 9 May 2019. Part of his visit to Sunway University was to discuss student mobility exercises for psychology students between the two departments of psychology.


Dr Ian Stephen in action

At the beginning of his talk, Dr Stephen first described the evolutionary context of attractiveness and highlighted that beauty or physical attractiveness is mainly used as an indication of health and fertility in a potential mate. According to him, studies have demonstrated that attractiveness can be used as a cue for physical fitness and good health, with attractive individuals being seen as having a longer lifespan and more children (high fertility).

Dr Stephen then discussed physical attractiveness in terms of the averageness, symmetry, and masculinity/femininity of faces. From research, it has been shown that physically attractive faces tend to be those with the most average features (e.g. face with the average nose size, eye size, eye-to-nose distance and so forth, of the general population) as well as those which are highly symmetrical. Dr Stephen also mentioned that males, regardless of cultural background or ethnicity, had a preference for more feminine female faces (e.g. rounder eyes, softer jawline, and fuller lips), whereas female preferences for masculine or feminine male faces differed across cultures.


Dr Alvin Ng facilitating discussions between students and Dr Ian Stephen.

There was also a discussion session at the end of the talk in which participants could ask questions and share their viewpoints on physical beauty. Overall, the talk was well-received by the participants. One participant, who prefers to remain anonymous, commented that the talk was “very interesting and new, and discussed points that were outside of the usual ‘textbook’ knowledge”. Another participant, graduating student of the BSc (Hons) in Psychology, Michael Ch’ng also mentioned that he found the talk to be fascinating especially the part about physical beauty and symmetrical faces.


Dr Ian Stephen flanked by Ms Aileen Lam of Gradsmate Malaysia and Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng, Head of the Department of Psychology, Sunway University.

Dr Ian Stephen is a perceptual and evolutionary psychologist with a particular interest in person perception. His teaching interests are in research methods, perception, and evolutionary psychology. His current visit to Sunway University was facilitated by Gradsmate Malaysia. The Department of Psychology would also like to thank Sunway University iLabs for the use of their beautiful venue.