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Unsupervised inference approach to facial attractiveness

The perception of facial attractiveness is a complex phenomenon which depends on how the observer perceives not only individual facial features, but also their mutual influence and interplay. In the machine learning community, this problem is typically tackled as a problem of regression of the subject-averaged rating assigned to natural faces. However, it has been conjectured that this approach does not capture the complexity of the phenomenon. It has recently been shown that different human subjects can navigate the face-space and “sculpt” their preferred modification of a reference facial portrait.


Here we present an unsupervised inference study of the set of sculpted facial vectors in such experiments. We first infer minimal, interpretable and accurate probabilistic models (through Maximum Entropy and artificial neural networks) of the preferred facial variations, that encode the inter-subject variance.


The application of such generative models to the supervised classification of the gender of the subject that sculpted the face reveals that it may be predicted with astonishingly high accuracy. We observe that the classification accuracy improves by increasing the order of the non-linear effective interaction. This suggests that the cognitive mechanisms related to facial discrimination in the brain do not involve the positions of single facial landmarks only, but mainly the mutual influence of couples, and even triplets and quadruplets of landmarks. Furthermore, the high prediction accuracy of the subjects’ gender suggests that much relevant information regarding the subjects may influence (and be elicited from) their facial preference criteria, in agreement with the multiple motive theory of attractiveness proposed in previous works.


M. Ibanez-Berganza, A. Amico, G. Lancia, F. Maggiore, B. Monechi, V. Loreto, Unsupervised inference approach to facial attractiveness, PeerJ 8 (2020) e10210

Vittorio Loreto

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