Winkielman, P., Halberstadt, J., Fazendeiro, T. & Catty, S. (2006). Prototypes are attractive because they are easy on the mind. Psychological Science, 17. 799-806.
People tend to prefer highly prototypical stimuli—a phenomenon referred to as the beauty-in-averageness effect. A common explanation of this effect proposes that prototypicality signals mate value. Here we present three experiments testing whether prototypicality preference results from more general mechanisms—fluent processing of prototypes and preference for fluently processed stimuli. In two experiments, participants categorized and rated the attractiveness of random-dot patterns (Experiment 1) or common geometric patterns (Experiment 2) that varied in levels of prototypicality. In both experiments, prototypicality was a predictor of both fluency (categorization speed) and attractiveness. Critically, fluency mediated the effect of prototypicality on attractiveness, although some effect of prototypicality remained when fluency was controlled. The findings were the same whether or not participants explicitly considered the pattern’s categorical membership, and whether or not categorization fluency was salient when they rated attractiveness. Experiment 3, using the psychophysiological technique of facial electromyography, confirmed that viewing abstract prototypes elicits quick positive affective reactions.