I came across this article a while ago and have been thinking about it a lot since that “Plight of Mixed-Race Children” post a few days ago. I am generally still offended by that Freakonomics blog article, but maybe it’s a harsh reality that I don’t want to acknowledge. The study Levitt spoke of did have just over 90,000 participants. The “more attractive” thing really stuck out to me as being inappropriate.  Then I remembered reading about this UCLA study…




(Daily Bruin) (U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — A recent study by University of California — Los Angeles Assistant Adjunct Professor of Biology Jay Phelan concluded that biracial people are perceived as more attractive than “uniracial” people because they have more symmetric features. 

Symmetry, according to Phelan, reflects an organism’s developmental stability and is strongly associated with longevity, health and fitness….

Symmetry, he found, was greater in heterozygous organisms. In other words, organisms are more symmetrical – and therefore potentially more “fit” – when their genes have two different alleles (for instance, one dominant allele and one recessive allele rather than two dominant or two recessive alleles). 

Crossing organisms from different populations, he believed, would result in “hybrid vigor.” The theory was that their heterozygosity was making them stronger and healthier. 

Genes produce enzymes that assist in bodily processes. When two slightly different enzymes are produced by heterozygous genes, the organism is “covered under a wider range of conditions,” he said. 

Most humans are heterozygous in about 20 percent of their genes. 

Assuming that biracial people are more heterozygous since they come from different populations (despite the debate surrounding the relative amounts of genetic variation within and among populations), Phelan started by measuring the symmetry of 99 UCLA student volunteers who were either biracial or uniracial. 

Biracial people were defined as those whose mother and father were of different races, but each of their parents were uniracial. Both parents of the uniracial subjects were of the same race. 

Phelan’s study concluded that biracial people were significantly more symmetrical than “uniracial” people. All 25 of the least symmetrical subjects were from uniracial groups, which were either Asian, black, Hispanic or white. Seven of the eight most symmetrical subjects were from biracial groups (Hispanic-white, Asian-white, black-white or Asian-Hispanic). 

In addition, Phelan found that symmetry was about the same for all uniracial people no matter which group they were in, and about the same foall biracial people, regardless of racial background. 

Phelan, however, did not want to stop merely with symmetry. He hypothesized that those who were more symmetrical would also be perceived as more attractive. 

To determine attractiveness, 30 people then rated photos of the subjects who had been measured for symmetry on attractiveness, ranking them from one to seven (seven being the highest). 

The results: Biracial people were perceived as significantly more attractive than “uniracial” people. 

Emily Shin, a third-year psychology student and president of the UCLA Hapa Club, appreciates Phelan’s work. 

“I think that it’s really great that people are doing research on hapa people, generally a group that’s marginalized,” Shin said. 

She added, however, that there is some dissent in the hapa community about research like Phelan’s, which perpetuates the stereotype that hapas are on average, more attractive people. 

“It makes hapa people, especially hapa girls, feel very objectified,” Shin added…..

David Zisser. “Study indicates mixed race, physical symmetry correlate.” University Wire. 2002.

I don’t know what I think of all this just yet. Right now I’m thinking, “If a majority of mixed-race children are struggling as Levitt’s article (which i initially brushed off as ridiculous mostly because of the attractiveness issue) suggests, then we need to help them because it doesn’t have to be that way.”

9 thoughts on “symmetry

  1. Look at Tiff!! Getting all “scientific” and thangs! LOL. hmmm…The “attractive” thing did not even cross my mind. It was all the rest of the “data” that I found quite disturbing. I mean, did he even respond back to you in regards to the question you posed concerning his so-called findings?? This guy does not get off the hook that easily, lol 🙂

  2. I always question and for the most part ignore studies like this. The only way I would be willing to give any credence to such studies is if the research was managed, observed, and produced by a multi-ethnic group of people overseeing the entire study. I think that without that you have type of person trying interpret results, often with a small group of people, concerning something that would need a wordwide and multi-ethnic interpretation. I think these studies are often generalized, especially when it is being performed by people who may not have enough experience across the board with various ethnic groups. Just my thoughts.

  3. hey ehav! i’m back to thinking these studies are irrelevant. if the symmetry thing was worth noting, i think we’d have heard more about it in the last seven years. especially since “biracial” is more of a hot topic now than it was in 2002. i’m not immune to the idea, though, that sometimes the truth hurts and it’s within the realm of possibility that the difficulties listed by Levitt may be realities for some mixed kids. maybe for many. i don’t like that, but it could be true…

  4. i was thinking that the more attractive is subject to opinion and how can you study that? but this other study did it. oh well.

  5. Hey Tiff,

    I think one of the biggest problems when dealing with the idea of symmetry is when one gets into, how various groups of people view it and relate to it and why. For example, when I was a freshman in college I had a roommate who was a body builder. He got me into going to the gym and due to his influence my view of women shifted to a more athletic kind of symmetry. For years after that I when I judged a woman’s body shape it was based on more of a track runner type of model. Before that time I can’t quite remember objectifying the body type so much in that way, maybe because I grew up in so many different environments with so many different ethnic groups that I didn’t have a general group of traits that alone were beauty.

    When I was high school I remember working at a resturant and discussing symmetry issues with a manager who was white. It was an interesting conversation in the sense because he had his idea of what was symmetry and I had mine. We had a number of differences, that for the most part were based on non-racial things even though it seemed that way to him. So maybe the issue is as society becomes more multi-cultured that peoples view of symmetry becomes a multi-cultured perspective.

    Here in the Middle East, some of the guys I know who are more rooted in Middle Eastern Jewish culture, often have wives that are bigger boned to coin a term. Even though the media here is almost like watching American media, concerning beauty and such being thin. This is where I think having a multi-ethnic view of such things helps broaden the perspective.

    It may simple be that certain segments of society objectify certain traits based on the reality that exists around them. This is making me think I may have to do a video on symmetry from my perspective.

  6. Hello Alan,

    What I am comparing is the view of symmetry based on different perceptions. For example, in the bodybuilding world you are correct it has nothing to do with size or weight. Points in bodybuilding contests are originate from the concept of longevity, health and fitness. Thus the athletic look is composed of one where one looks at those three things when one sees beauty. A person can be 4″11 as compared to a person who is 6″1 and their symmetry could be exactly the same.

    By like token, when I mentioned how size is regarded here in the Middle East, i.e. bigger boned this is because for a long time in this part of the world longevity, health and fitness was connected with size because of the ability to work and produce children. This was more of a visual perception of said person’s physical dynamics. That is why I say, how one defines symmetry on some level can vary based on culture. One person’s longevity, health and fitness could be another person’s not so fit. It all depends on how one looks at it.

    Primarely I am talking about the second phase of Phelen’s hypothosis. Sorry I didn’t make it exactly clear on what I was speaking of.

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