Beauty is frequently defined as a subjective, aesthetic quality of objects which makes these objects enjoyable to see. These objects may be natural scenery, sunsets, people and other artistic works of art. Beauty, along with art and psychology, is probably the oldest subject of aesthetics, among the major branches of comparative philosophy. It is also the most influential, since aesthetic sense is the only driving force behind many of the technological innovations and discoveries of modern civilization. Beauty has been the subject of endless debates, from the ancient Greeks questioning the physical and spiritual nature of beauty, to the creation of various beauty cults in early medieval Europe. In modern times, beauty is often associated with a particular culture or society.
One of the most popular approaches to the study of beauty is to examine the effects of social norms on the perception of beauty. For example, it has been found that beauty is associated with wealth and social status more in societies which practice higher standards of honesty and corruption, but that there is no relationship between the quality of beauty and personal integrity in a society where honesty and social status are not widespread. This indicates that individual perceptions of beauty do not necessarily conform to societal expectations, and that beauty may therefore be an internal rather than an external characteristic. It has also been found that physical attractiveness is positively associated with the degree of physiological attraction to a partner, but this effect fails to hold true when the physical attraction is directed toward the same partner or when the partners come from different cultures.
The underlying theories that have been put forward to explain the relation between beauty and personality have also undergone numerous empirical studies. According to the character Expressionist theory, human beauty is defined by the psychological disposition toward bodily expression. According to this theory, a beautiful person is an individual who displays healthy, positive sociability, assertiveness, and independent thinking. According to the Ego-driven theory, human beauty is defined by the person’s capacity to derive pleasure from the experience of visual beauty. According to the Meta-personality theory, the person’s attitude toward beauty determines his or her level of interpersonal relationships.
One of the most influential theories concerning the relation between beauty and character was expounded by the American writer W. Clement Stone. In his book The Demands of Love (1940), he suggested that true beauty lies in the inner beauty of a person. He rejected the common belief that outward appearances indicate personality. His arguments against the expressionistic theory were that true beauty has nothing to do with physical appearance and that superficial beauty is a facade created by the self for the sake of self-esteem. According to Stone, true beauty is a state of mental equilibrium achieved through self-examination, self-awareness, and self-empowerment.
More recently, social scientists have explored the potential psychological benefits of physical appearance. In a number of studies, both humans and animals have been found to prefer individuals with higher than average physical attractiveness. Psychological studies that have examined the link between physical attractiveness and psychological balance have consistently found positive results. For example, in a number of studies, women demonstrated an increased preference for physically attractive men, but only when those men had high levels of socioeconomic status. Similarly, women showed a significant preference for physically attractive men with higher educational levels, but only if those men had high levels of social status.
Overall, then, there is substantial evidence that beauty does have a positive effect on psychological balance. However, the specific psychological balance that is formed by beauty – emotional, social, or physical – appears to be relatively impermeable. It is not likely, for example, that the effects of beauty will prove particularly meaningful for those whose beauty is primarily a product of socialization and the impact of culture, norms, and ideals. For these people, the impact of beauty may be more prosaic – an effect that speaks to the psychological stability of their lives, but which they can most likely ignore.