The science of ugliness

Blobfish - 550

The blobfish, highlighted in a New York Times slide show on ugly animals, is “practically all face — a pale, gelatinous deep-sea creature whose large-lipped, sad-sack expression seems to be melting toward the floor.” An accompanying article explores the underpinnings of our aesthetic recoil:

[C]omparative consideration of what we find freakish or unsettling in other species offers a fresh perspective on how we extract large amounts of visual information from a millisecond’s glance, and then spin, atomize and anthropomorphize that assessment into a revealing saga of ourselves.

Wildlife biologists are far from immune to prejudice against the unbeautiful.

[R]researchers found 1,855 papers about chimpanzees, 1,241 on leopards and 562 about lions — but only 14 for that mammalian equivalent of the blobfish, the African manatee.

“The manatee was the least studied large mammal,” [University of Pretoria researcher Morgan] Trimble said. Speculating on a possible reason for the disparity, she said, “Most scientists are in it for the love of what they do, and a lot of them are interested in big, furry cute things.”

Greenpeace and the IFAW learned how to monetize this prejudice decades ago, via their cash cow, the seal hunt protest.


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