Charla Jones/Toronto Star file photo
A new study by professors Kelsey Blackburn and James Schirillo from Wake Forest University in North Carolina shows that images of the left side of the face are perceived and rated as more pleasant than pictures of the right side. It is apparently because the left side presents more intense emotions than the right and is more active during emotional expression.
“So if you’re smiling you’re going to get a bigger smile on the left side of your face than on the right side,” explained Schirillo.
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The study, published online in Experimental Brain Research, had participants rate the pleasantness of both sides of male and female in real life photographs set in grey-scale.
“Our results suggest that posers’ left cheeks tend to exhibit a greater intensity of emotion, which observers find more aesthetically pleasing,” explained the authors.
People preferred the left side whether the photo was taken that way or a mirror image of the right side was presented. Participants’ pupils also dilated more when viewing the left side photos, a reliable unconscious measure of interest.
The research continues a conversation begun by Charles Darwin in 1872 when he became the first of many to note the asymmetry of human faces and began a long line of research into the differences between the two sides of the face.
Some celebrities were hip to this long before the recent research proved them right. Barbra Streisand is famously known to only be photographed on her left. When she visited The Rosie O’Donnell Show in 1997, the entire set was switched around so that the singer was sitting with the left side facing the audience. At the time, O’Donnell didn’t say why the set was flipped, but it later emerged that it was for Streisand.
Research has shown that the right cerebral hemisphere of the brain is better at perceiving emotional stimuli, which makes it better at expressing that emotion. The right side of the brain controls the emotional output of the left side of one’s face, which accounts for the results.
The study had 37 participants and researchers concluded based on their answers that there is a more than a 95 per cent chance that these results are due to the fact that there’s a real difference.
Researchers also found this effect when people looked at portraits painted by famous artists such as Rembrandt.