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Medial canthal tilt and attractiveness
The medial canthus is the inner corner of the eye, formed by the junction of the upper and lower eyelids. In the two images below, the image on top shows a picture of the eyes of a woman and the image below it shows the same picture with the medial canthus digitally tilted (using Adobe photoshop). Bashour and Geist investigated whether slightly increasing the tilt of the medial canthus increases attractiveness(1).
The faces of 66 young women of European ancestry were photographed and 66 corresponding slides were prepared showing the unaltered face next to the same face where the medial canthal tilt was artificially increased. 50 male and 50 female judges were exposed to these slides and asked to pick the more appealing picture without being told what the purpose of the study was. Each slide was shown for 3 seconds.
The data from 7 judges were excluded because one judge recognized a face, 3 judges figured out that the study was about eye alteration and 3 judges were not able to judge all the slides.
Increased medial canthal tilt was preferred 93% of the time (p < 0.0001), with no difference between male and female judges. What explains this preference? Consider the following diagrams first, which show how medial canthal tilt and palpebral fissure inclination are measured, respectively.
Medial canthal tilt: the angle between a horizontal line passing through the lowest point of the medial canthus and a line bisecting the medial caruncle at its lateral end.
Palpebral fissure inclination: the angle between a horizontal line passing through the lowest point of the medial canthus and a line bisecting the lateral canthus.
The authors speculated that part of the reason why greater medial canthal tilt in women is preferred is that the palpebral fissure inclination is slightly greater in women than men and greater in children than in adults, and increased medial canthal tilt appears to suggest greater palpebral fissure inclination, i.e., an accentuation of femininity and neoteny.
Whereas above average femininity is a powerful correlate of beauty in women, neoteny isn’t even though many researchers continue to point this out. Elsewhere within this site, it has been shown that neoteny, which is the retention in the adult of the features of the juvenile stages of the ancestral species, does not apply to the shape of the human face. The authors were trying to imply pedomorphy as a correlate of beauty but incorrectly used the term neoteny. Pedomorphy refers to the retention in the adult of more child-like features. Whereas it is true that the faces of women are closer to those of children, sexual maturity makes both males and females move away from the face shape of children, and the central tendency of adults is to prefer sexually mature individuals. Therefore, it is incorrect to describe pedomorphy as a correlate of beauty when more attractive features that appear to be pedomorphic are either somewhat more feminine than average features (e.g., less prominent noses and broader faces, controlling for other factors) and thereby more attractive in women or somewhat more gracile than average features and thereby more attractive in both men and women.
The authors addressed whether the medical canthal tilt can be surgically altered. So far no surgical procedure has been developed to achieve this, but the palpebral fissure inclination can be altered via a procedure known as lateral tarsal strip canthal fixation.
The authors also provided three illustrations of celebrities with noticeable medial canthal tilt and attractive eyes: Claire Forlani, Jennifer Connelly and Shalom Harlow. Their pictures in the paper are low resolution black-and-white ones and not worth reproducing here because the reader can easily look up these women on the net, but none of these women happen to be feminine, and the choices apparently stem from the authors’ desire to illustrate the following point they make:
An accentuated medial canthal tilt is potentially responsible for the peculiar and particular attractiveness of certain professional female model’s faces that otherwise have no other particular features to make them more attractive than any other professional female model’s faces.
Here is an example of a feminine woman with clear medial canthal tilt.
- Bashour, M., and Geist, C., Is medial canthal tilt a powerful cue for facial attractiveness?, Ophthal Plast Reconstr Surg, 23, 52 (2007).