Do You Have A Better Side?

Which is your better side?

She appears to have a nearly symmetrical face when flat lit and posed square on to the camera
She appears to have a nearly symmetrical face when flat lit and posed square on to the camera

New research shows that the left side of the human face is generally more appealing to others than the right side. This may help explain why portraitists tend to paint their subjects’ left profiles.


For the study 37 male and female college students were asked to rate photos of 10 male and 10 female faces. The photos were presented as originally taken and then in mirror image form. In mirror form the right cheeks appeared to be left cheeks, and vice versa.

This is a composite of one side of the face reversed and copied over opposite the original
This is a composite of one side of the face reversed and copied over opposite the original


What happened? Photos showing the left sides of faces were rated more “pleasant” than those showing right sides. It didn’t matter whether the portraits were shown as taken originally or in mirror-reversed form. The researchers corroborated that finding by gauging the pupil size of the study participants’ eyes. Research has shown that gazing at pleasant or interesting images causes an increase in pupil size, whereas gazing at unpleasant images causes pupils to constrict.


“Our results suggest that posers’ left cheeks tend to exhibit a greater intensity of emotion, which observers find more aesthetically pleasing,” the researchers said in a written statement. “Our findings provide support for a number of concepts–the notions of lateralized emotion and right hemispheric dominance with the right side of the brain controlling the left side of the face during emotional expression.”

This is a composite of one side of the face reversed and copied over opposite the original
This is a composite of one side of the face reversed and copied over opposite the original


It’s a fascinating finding, but does the study yield a practical take-away message for people who want to look their best?


“Practically, people should turn slightly so that they show more of their left, than right, cheek when being photographed,” Dr. Schirillo said in the email. “Others will find these images more appealing than the reverse (more right cheek exposed).”

These are the things I have studied and internalized through nearly 40 years of experience. For me it becomes automatic. I don’t even think about it anymore. A blessing and a curse at the same time, I suppose. I can’t turn it off. I analyze faces, I flatten 3 dimensional spaces, I compose and crop, I assess f-stops, shutter speeds, and tell the story I see in my head all without a camera.

This is why I can’t quit being a photographer. It’s in me.

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