Ever wonder why children warm to some adults and shy away from others? Here’s the short answer: Kids are jerks.
The half-socialized mini-adults, a recent study in Frontiers in Psychology confirmed, don’t trust people they think are ugly.
To be fair, adults aren’t any less superficial. Numerous psychology studies have confirmed that the “beauty stereotype” is real: That is, the better-looking among us are generally considered to be smarter, more sociable, and more successful, whether or not that’s objectively true. In the world of sports, for example, psychologists have argued that quarterbacks tend to look like male models because we assume that hot football players will make better leaders, thereby giving them more opportunities to shine. Kids, like adults, are extremely shallow.
Ugliness, of course, is subjective, which is why the researchers from China’s Wenzhou Medical University measured the link between relative attractiveness and trustworthiness in their study. After splitting their 138 participants into groups of aged 8, 10, and 12, they showed the kids a series of computer-generated male faces — eyes straight ahead, with neutral expressions — and asked them to rate how trustworthy the faces seemed. A month later, the kids were shown the same faces and were asked to rate how attractive they were.
A group of adults were asked to do the same thing. Comparing the results between children and adults, the researchers found that kids were more likely to reach a consensus within and between age groups as they got older, inferring that kids’ ability to judge trustworthiness increased as they got older.
When they looked more closely at how participants scored the individual faces, the researchers found that both kids and adults considered attractive people to be more trustworthy. Girls, they found, were generally better at making those judgement calls than boys.
Because the study is hardly a big one — one that failed to quantify or break down attractiveness in any really meaningful way — its results shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Still, it adds credence to the idea that attractiveness is a “universal language” that spans all age groups, and it invokes questions about the evolutionary basis for our ability to infer social traits from facial features. Is there an actual biological link between good looks and honesty? It’s hard to say. But there’s no questioning the idea that humans are born — and remain — shallow.