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Just my type? The reason we find certain people attractive

Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, but there's a reason for that, researchers say.
/ Source: TODAY

We may share our friends' tastes when we're shopping for clothes and shoes, but when it comes to which men and women we find attractive, our tastes begin to differ — sometimes wildly. While experts have long known that people find certain qualities such as facial shape and symmetry attractive, it’s never been clear why some of us go for Ryan Reynolds and others George Clooney.

A new study sheds some light on the subject, revealing that it’s our unique, personal experiences — and not so much our genes, cultural norms, or other factors — that decide our hotness preferences.

Ryan Reynolds, George Clooney
Hot or not: Ryan Reynolds or George Clooney? Both or neither may depend on your unique, personal experiences.Getty Images file

So, if you've had a good relationship with a hipster with a beard, you're likely to associate beards as being more attractive because of it.

“We know that we differ in the way we judge attractiveness,” says Laura Germine, a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and an author of the study in Current Biology. “You can’t predict who someone finds attractive based on some characteristic.”

To conduct their study, researchers asked 547 pairs of identical twins and 214 same-sex, non-identical twins to rank the attractiveness of 200 faces. The researchers made sure to study identical twins because they share 100 percent of their genes, meaning that if genes only determined attraction, all the identical twins would have the same response. And while non-identical twins share only 50 percent of their genes, they would share similar family experiences.

Both sets of twins agreed on who was hot (and who was not) only about half of the time.

When researchers set out to learn what accounted for the other half of the time — when the twins disagreed — they found that personal, individual experiences had much to do with different tastes.

“Genetics [were] not contributing to preferences,” Germine says. “The environment seems to be the absolutely predominant factor in shaping individual preferences.”

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These findings are surprising to experts in beauty perception who have long believed our genetics decide who we’re attracted to.

“It seems that the environment is the primary determinant of our attractiveness preferences. Much of the field of attractiveness research has suggested our preferences for attractiveness are biological and are therefore likely heritable,” Alex Jones, a post-doctoral research associate at Gettysburg College who is not affiliated with the study, tells via email.

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Yet, the researchers learned that genetics does play a role in our perception of attractiveness. Genes account for how people recognize faces—so identical twins may notice symmetry more so than two people who were not identical twins.

“A further important finding here is … our skill in recognizing people is inherited from our parents and genes,” Jones says.

“This is an important contrast because it shows that the role of the environment in developing attractiveness preferences is specific and does not extend to other facets of how we perceive faces.”

Want to see how similarly you and your friends rank attractiveness? Take a test here.