Children aged 7–9 prefer cuteness in baby faces, and femininity in women's faces

Tamsin Saxton, Thomas Pollet, Jenny Panagakis, Emily Round, Samantha Brown, Janek Lobmaier

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Infant facial features are typically perceived as “cute,” provoking caretaking behaviours. Previous research has focused on adults' perceptions of baby cuteness, and examined how these perceptions are influenced by events of the adult reproductive lifespan, such as ovulation and menopause. However, globally, individuals of all ages, including pre‐pubertal children, provide notable proportions of infant care. In this study, we recruited participants in and around northern England, and tested 330 adults and 65 children aged 7–9 using a forced‐choice paradigm to assess preferences for infant facial cuteness in two stimulus sets and (as a control task) preferences for femininity in women's faces. We analysed the data with Hierarchical Bayesian Regression Models. The adults and children successfully identified infants who had been manipulated to appear cuter, although children's performance was poorer than adults' performance, and children reliably identified infant cuteness in only one of the two infant stimuli sets. Children chose the feminised over masculinised women's faces as more attractive, although again their performance was poorer than adults' performance. There was evidence for a female advantage in the tasks: girls performed better than boys when assessing the woman stimuli and one of the infant stimulus sets, and women performed better than men when assessing one of the infant stimulus sets. There was no evidence that cuteness judgements differed depending upon exposure to infants (children with siblings aged 0–2; adults with a baby caregiving role), or depending upon being just younger or older than the average age of menopause. Children and grandparents provide notable portions of infant caretaking globally, and cuteness perceptions could direct appropriate caregiving behaviour in these age groups, as well as in adults of reproductive age.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1048-1060
Number of pages13
Issue number11
Early online date23 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


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