Ever get the stink eye from a random child passerby? Don't fret about it. It's not that he doesn't like you; it's that he doesn't trust you. And he doesn't trust you because you're ugly.
At least that's my roundabout takeaway from a new study published in Frontiers and Psychology that finds children make judgments of trustworthiness based on an individual's attractiveness.
For their study, researchers at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and Wenzhou Medical University in China enlisted 138 participants that fell into two categories, one made up of children ages 8, 10 and 12, and the other composed of adults.
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Participants in both groups were first asked to assess the trustworthiness of a person created by a face generation program called FaceGen. Each face had a neutral expression in order to minimize potential cues to participants. In a follow-up undertaken a month or more after the first session, study participants repeated the exercise, but also gave their opinions on the attractiveness of each face.
Based on the responses, the researchers uncovered a direct relationship between attractiveness and trustworthiness, and the link seemed to be present among both groups. Children and adults both interpret looks as an indication of character.
Older children also have a more developed perception of trustworthiness compared to their younger counterparts, in that they were more consistent with their assessments between the two sessions. This suggests that our ability to gauge trustworthiness increases with age. Girls are also more sophisticated at making such judgments than boys, the researchers found.
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The latest research reinforces previous findings on the "beauty is good" stereotype, the idea that attractiveness changes perceptions of an individual's intelligence, character or other qualities unrelated to looks.
A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that arbitrary facial features are key to first impressions, leading to snap judgments of whether an individual is friendly, competent or trustworthy. These initial snapshots can influence later interactions.
In fact, the idea of equating beauty with other positive traits has its roots at an early age. "Even newborn babies display preferences for adult-judged attractive faces, and 1-year-old babies attribute positive behaviors and traits to attractive people and select attractive individuals more than unattractive ones as playmates," the authors of the latest study write.
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