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Beauty-in-averageness and its contextual modulations: A Bayesian statistical account
Chaitanya Ryali · Angela Yu

Tue Dec 04 02:00 PM -- 04:00 PM (PST) @ Room 210 #24

Understanding how humans perceive the likability of high-dimensional objects'' such as faces is an important problem in both cognitive science and AI/ML. Existing models generally assume these preferences to be fixed. However, psychologists have found human assessment of facial attractiveness to be context-dependent. Specifically, the classical Beauty-in-Averageness (BiA) effect, whereby a blended face is judged to be more attractive than the originals, is significantly diminished or reversed when the original faces are recognizable, or when the blend is mixed-race/mixed-gender and the attractiveness judgment is preceded by a race/gender categorization, respectively. This "Ugliness-in-Averageness" (UiA) effect has previously been explained via a qualitative disfluency account, which posits that the negative affect associated with the difficult race or gender categorization is inadvertently interpreted by the brain as a dislike for the face itself. In contrast, we hypothesize that human preference for an object is increased when it incurs lower encoding cost, in particular when its perceived {\it statistical typicality} is high, in consonance with Barlow's seminalefficient coding hypothesis.'' This statistical coding cost account explains both BiA, where facial blends generally have higher likelihood than ``parent faces'', and UiA, when the preceding context or task restricts face representation to a task-relevant subset of features, thus redefining statistical typicality and encoding cost within that subspace. We use simulations to show that our model provides a parsimonious, statistically grounded, and quantitative account of both BiA and UiA. We validate our model using experimental data from a gender categorization task. We also propose a novel experiment, based on model predictions, that will be able to arbitrate between the disfluency account and our statistical coding cost account of attractiveness.

Author Information

Chaitanya Ryali (UC San Diego)
Angela Yu (UC San Diego)

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