Document Type


Publication Title

Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment

Publication Date



College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Psychology


By comparing photos of portraits of the faces of Renaissance courtesans to photos of attractive contemporary women’s faces this study estimates the importance of sociocultural factors in the personal perception of faces. Physical attractiveness is an important causal factor in choosing a sex partner, so the difference between averaged attractiveness judgments, a focus of attractiveness research, and individual attractiveness judgment, most relevant to choosing a sex partner, is important. Except for modesty and faithfulness, 13 normally attractive contemporary models were rated much more positively by college student participants (N = 189) than were eight celebrated Renaissance courtesans, both in attractiveness (contemporary stimuli 63%; Renaissance courtesans 31%) and in personality traits. All of the Renaissance courtesan trait ratings showed more variability than the contemporary stimuli. This study supports the view that once a relatively low baseline level of biological attractiveness is surpassed, latent and explicit sociocultural factors, culturally relative gender role appearance expectations, culturally relative aesthetic judgment factors, individual differences, and interpersonal dynamics are major determining factors of judgments of pretty and/or beautiful showing large subcultural and cultural individual differences. Pretty and beautiful may be discrete concepts, with beautiful strongly culturally determined. These data suggest that sociocultural and subcultural factors are important determiners of attractiveness.


Copyright Statement

This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. The final, definitive version of this document is available online at Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment published by Taylor and Frances. The final publication is available at