all the faces2

Beauty and attractiveness have long-been the subject of psychological investigation. Whilst beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, there are some faces that can scientifically be deemed more attractive than others, due to a mixture of shape, expression and symmetry.

The averager is an interactive display created by psychology researchers at Glasgow University, which is now re-evaluating the way we understand attractiveness by using a collection of vastly diverse faces to create the most average faces they possibly can using a tool that superimposes different faces on top of one another and draws an compound image from the lot.

The demonstration is a computer-generated version of an old photographic technique created by a 19th Century eugenicist and polymath, Sir Francis Galton, which involved exposing multiple images of human faces onto the same photographic plate to create a synthetic face that signified the median of the original photos; the technique is called ‘composite portraiture’. The theory behind this technique came from Galton’s own belief in the presence of an idea or ‘central type’ of human face, which could be used to decipher identifiable features that could be equated to specific types of people, such as criminals, or people suffering for certain diseases.

What Galton discovered was that, rather than the compound effect of the faces being what most would consider average attractiveness, the more faces that were piled on top of each other, the greater the attractiveness of the composite image.

Glasgow University’s own face averaging tool brings together 103 faces from every ethnicity, age, size and gender, letting you compile random selections and generating the ‘average’ outcome. Whilst 2 or 3 face merges will render a picture that falls in line with a common perception of ‘averageness’, the more faces you add, or rather the more average you make the result, the more beautiful the composite picture appears.

5 boy faces

Whilst the research doesn’t necessarily conclude that good looks are tantamount to averageness, it does suggest that the organised whole of this collection of faces is greater than the sum of its components, (and it’s also pretty fun mashing all the faces together and marveling at the result!)

Try it for yourself, there‘s even a celebrity version.