John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

Facial Asymmetry and "Character"

facial asymmetry

Symmetry as sexy

Research studies have concluded that symmetrical faces are perceived as more sexy, perhaps due to the unconscious, evolution-determined assumption that healthy bodies grow with balanced proportions. No doubt, when there are significant disruptions of the symmetry in a person’s face, people will probably perceive that person as unattractive or downright ugly.

However, I suspect there are limits to how important such symmetry is. After all, no one's face is perfectly symmetrical, including those of very beautiful people. So why does nature insist on at least some asymmetry?

Manipulate your own face

Here’s an experiment you can try with Photoshop (or some other image-editing program), as I’ve done with this image. Select the left side of your face, duplicate it, flip it horizontally, and then merge it with the original left side of your face. Now your face is all left-side and perfectly symmetrical. Do the same with the right side of your face to create an all right-side, perfectly symmetrical visage.

You’ll discover that your all-left, all-right, and natural face look quite different. The biggest difference is usually between the all-left and all-right faces. How would you describe the personality of those two? Might they reflect different sides of your personality?

Maybe some asymmetry is sexy

Because your natural face is not exactly symmetrical, it tends to be a bit more complex and subtle than the other two. It embodies and expresses both sides of your personality. It tends to have a more interesting “character” – which is perhaps why Nature provided us with asymmetrical faces.

When trying this experiment, use front or diffuse lighting to insure even exposure across your entire face. Asymmetrical shadows will create artificial differences between the two sides of your face (a problem I encountered with this image). Also make sure you shoot your face straight on. If you shoot to one side, even just slightly off center, you might create subtle and artificial differences in the shape of the left and right side of your face.

Left versus right brain

Psychological research on brain asymmetry suggests that the right side of the cerebral cortex is associated with emotional and creative expressiveness, while the left side is the seat of rational and logical thinking. Because the right side of the brain controls the left side of the face, while the left side of the brain controls the right side of the face, the left side of the face might appear more imaginative, intuitive, and emotive, while the right side seems more serious and analytical. Portrait photographers will also tell you that people who are very familiar with their own faces know which is their "best" side. We might explain that preference by how much they value the emotional expressiveness versus rational thinking of right and left brain functions. We might also hypothesize that obvious visual differences between the left and right side of the face reflects discrepancies or poor communication between the creative/emotional and logical/analytical sides of one's personality. The more symmetrical and "beautiful" face might be the one that more effectively combines these two aspects of the psyche.


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Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche