Jenny Hope, Daily Mail (London), April 15, 2010
The British regard people of mixed race as the most attractive and successful, say psychologists.
Celebrities such as formula one champion Lewis Hamilton, footballer Ryan Giggs and X Factor star Leona Lewis have helped boost the image of mixed race people, according to a new study.
Psychological testing found they outstrip people who are white or black in terms of perceived attractiveness, with a rating that far exceeds their representation in British society.
Lead researcher Dr Michael Lewis, who carried out the largest study of its kind, believes there may be more than one reason for the cultural shift.
He says a ‘fusion’ of black, white and mixed races would lead to ‘Mr and Mrs Average’ being mixed race, resulting in people more readily identifying with them.
But there could also be a Darwinian explanation, with cross-breeding between diverse genetic backgrounds naturally leading to more genetically ‘fit’ people who tend to be more attractive.
However, TV’s X Factor could be responsible for the trend by exposing relatively more talented people from mixed race backgrounds to the public gaze.
Dr Lewis and colleagues from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology collected a random sample of 1,205 black, white, and mixed-race faces from Facebook communities, including ‘mixed race and proud’ and Cornwall-based.
Each face was then rated for their perceived attractiveness to others on a scale of one to 10 by 40 female students.
Overall, there was a 55 per cent chance that mixed-race faces were perceived as being more attractive than either black or white faces.
But the ‘extremely attractive’ ratings were dominated by mixed race faces, who made up one in 10 of them.
This is a much greater proportion than would be expected based on their representation in British society of around three per cent, said Dr Lewis.
Dr Lewis said ‘Previous, small scale, studies have suggested that people of mixed race are perceived as being more attractive than non-mixed-race people. This study was an attempt to put this to the wider test.
Other high-profile figures include Ryan Giggs and Tiger Woods, he told the British Psychological Society conference in Stratford on Avon.
Dr Lewis said humans are drawn to ‘average’ faces when they rate attractiveness, which could mean mixed race faces emerge the winners out of an amalgam of black, white and brown.
‘They have become Mr and Mrs Average’ he said.
A more complex explanation was first put forward by Darwin in 1876, who described a biological phenomenon called heterosis or hybrid vigour.
This predicts that cross-breeding will lead to offspring that are genetically fitter than their parents.
It is possible that humans are also subject to this process, so the mixing of diverse genetic background leads to greater genetic fitness ‘which tends to be linked to attractiveness’, said Dr Lewis.
‘There is evidence, albeit anecdotal, that the impact of heterosis goes beyond just attractiveness.
‘This comes from the observation that, although mixed-race people make up a small proportion of the population, they are over-represented at the top level of a number of meritocratic professions like acting with Halle Berry, Formula 1 racing with Lewis Hamilton; and, of course, politics with Barack Obama’ he added.
Dr Lewis said the popularity of shows like the X Factor, which had featured a high number of talented mixed race contestants also helped. ‘This could be part of changing attitudes towards black people’ he added.