Biological Reviews

Review Article

Darwinian aesthetics: sexual selection and the biology of beauty

a1 Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institute for Urban Ethology, Althanstrasse 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.
a2 Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, CNRS UMR 7103, Bâtiment A, 7ème étage, 7 quai St. Bernard, Case 237, FR-75252 Paris Cedex 05, France.
a3 University of New Mexico, Castetter Hall, Department of Biology, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1091, USA.

Article author query
grammer k   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
fink b   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
moller a   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
thornhill r   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Current theoretical and empirical findings suggest that mate preferences are mainly cued on visual, vocal and chemical cues that reveal health including developmental health. Beautiful and irresistible features have evolved numerous times in plants and animals due to sexual selection, and such preferences and beauty standards provide evidence for the claim that human beauty and obsession with bodily beauty are mirrored in analogous traits and tendencies throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. Human beauty standards reflect our evolutionary distant and recent past and emphasize the role of health assessment in mate choice as reflected by analyses of the attractiveness of visual characters of the face and the body, but also of vocal and olfactory signals. Although beauty standards may vary between cultures and between times, we show in this review that the underlying selection pressures, which shaped the standards, are the same. Moreover we show that it is not the content of the standards that show evidence of convergence – it is the rules or how we construct beauty ideals that have universalities across cultures. These findings have implications for medical, social and biological sciences.

(Received January 30 2002)
(Revised September 4 2002)
(Accepted September 13 2002)

Key Words: attractiveness; beauty standards; Darwinian aesthetics; face; humans; mate choice; sexual selection.

c1 Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institute for Urban Ethology, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria. Tel: +43 1 4277 54769. Fax: +43 1 4277 9547. E-mail: