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A Foxy View of Human Beauty: Implications of the Farm Fox Experiment for Understanding the Origins of Structural and Experiential Aspects of Facial Attractiveness

I. E. Elia
The Quarterly Review of Biology
Vol. 88, No. 3 (September 2013), pp. 163-183
DOI: 10.1086/671486
Stable URL:
Page Count: 21
Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology History of Science & Technology Biological Sciences
Find more content in these subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology History of Science & Technology Biological Sciences
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A Foxy View of Human Beauty: Implications of the Farm Fox Experiment for Understanding the Origins of Structural and Experiential Aspects of Facial Attractiveness
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AbstractWithin 20 years, experimental selection of quantified “not too aggressive, not too fearful” behavior to human approach was shown in silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes) to produce a neotenic package of traits in adults: ability to seek, induce, and sustain contact (called friendly or rapport behavior); relatively short limbs and foreshortened skull/face; and light pigmentation areas. Earlier sexual maturation, prolonged receptivity, and larger litters were also noted. The increased estradiol supporting these changes was apparently also responsible for faster skeletal maturation, including earlier fusion of the basicranium causing tooth crowding, but also paedomorphic craniofacial proportions that we find attractive in our own and other species. In this paper, these important findings of the farm fox experiment are juxtaposed with insights from social psychology, physical anthropology, and neuroscience about facial beauty and reaction to it. Since many unrelated species show some or all of the neotenic package or domestication profile when they have achieved rapport past the juvenile stage, craniofacial proportions considered attractive are discussed as genetically and hormonally linked to the evolution of rapport—social contact, trust, and cooperation—whether by natural, intuitive, intentional, or mixed paths of selection.

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