Skin colour, pigmentation and the perceived health of human faces
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Many non-human animal species use colour to signal dominance, condition or reproductive status. These signals have not previously been noted in humans. This thesis investigates the effects of skin colouration and pigmentation on the apparent health of human faces. Section 2 showed that individuals with increased fruit and vegetable and carotenoid consumption have yellower skin (Study 1) due to increased carotenoid pigmentation in the skin (Study 2). In Section 3, participants enhanced the redness, yellowness and lightness of the skin portions of colour-calibrated facial photographs to optimise healthy appearance. This suggests roles for blood (red) and carotenoid/melanin (yellow) colouration in providing perceptible cues to health. The contrast between lips and facial skin colour was not found to affect the apparent health of the faces, except in the b* (yellowness) axis, where enhanced facial yellowness caused an apparent blue tint to the lips. In Section 4 participants enhanced empirically-derived oxygenated blood colour more than deoxygenated blood colour to optimise healthy appearance. In two-dimensional trials, when both blood colour axes could be manipulated simultaneously, deoxygenated blood colour was removed and replaced with oxygenated blood colour. Oxygenated blood colouration appears to drive the preference for redness in faces. In Section 5 participants increased carotenoid colour significantly more than they increased melanin colour in both single-axis and two-dimensional trials. Carotenoid colour appears to drive the preference for yellowness in faces. In a cross-cultural study (Section 6), preferences for red and yellow in faces were unaffected by face or participant ethnicity, while African participants lightened faces more than UK participants. A preference for more redness in East Asian faces was explained by this group’s lower initial redness. The thesis concludes that pigments that provide sexually-selected signals of quality in many non-human animal species – carotenoids and oxygenated blood - also provide perceptible cues to health in human faces.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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