A team of Chinese psychologists found that children’s level of perceived trust in strangers depends on their attractiveness. Around 200 children were shown a series of computer-generated male faces and asked to rate how trustworthy they found each face to be. A month later, the researchers from Wenzhou Medical University brought the same children back and this time asked them to rate each face’s attractiveness.
Their findings, published in Frontiers, found that their sample size of 138 children consistently give high levels of trust to those faces they found to be attractive:
Further exploration of the relationships between facial trustworthiness and attractiveness judgments showed that, like adults, close relationships existed between the two facial judgments during childhood
The data showed that children of similar age groups consistently rate trustworthiness and attractiveness within close ranges. Girls showed a higher preference for attractive faces than boys did, and made judgments more similar to adults’ preferences than boys did.
All of the children’s attractiveness judgments were more consistent than trustworthiness judgments, indicating that children are more disposed towards making assessment of others’ attractiveness. Furthermore, the data shows that children are better able to make judgments about trustworthiness as they age; groups of older children were more closely aligned with one another than younger children groups.
Critics of this study cite the fact that what constituted “attractiveness” in the computer-generated faces is not well-defined, and the sample size of 138 is not quite large enough to reach any significant conclusions at this point. However, the correlation in the data is strong enough to warrant further research.
This study also raises questions about human cognition when it comes to judging and responding to the physical attractiveness of others. Some research has already shown correlation between attractiveness and reproductive success and even between physical attractiveness and success in social interactions.
Do we have an innate predisposition towards beauty? If so, what evolutionary purpose might it serve other than ensuring celebrities’ children never have to take responsibility for themselves? Further research such as this study might one day shed light on these and other questions surrounding humankind’s natural obsession with beauty.