On many occasions, I have found myself get rather uncomfortable when being stared at by infants!
I have often wondered whether I am being judged by those baby eyes!
At times, I can actually hear them say ‘no you silly not like that!’ or ‘oh boy that hair!’
Of course I had no proof. Just a hunch, that I was being criticised or judged by these little people!
But now, it seems there is proof and that I am not paranoid after all!
Apparently, children don’t think nearly as highly of our face, as we do of theirs.
They may not say it, but by the time they’re as young as three, they give you a good hard look the moment they meet you and they judge a lot by what they see.
According to a new study conducted by a group of researchers from Harvard University and published in the journal Developmental Psychology, the scrutinising starts earlier and is a good deal subtler than a lot of people believed.
“We have a misguided notion that children are empty vessels into which culture slowly pours itself as they mature,” says psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, a co-author of the study.
“These perceptions of people, however inaccurate those judgments might be, emerge early in humans. Our children, it seems, start off a lot like us—and become only more so as they age.”
In the first part of a four-part study, investigators assembled a group of 99 children who were ages three to 11 (average age: six). They showed all of them photographs of a male face that had been computer-manipulated to look either trustworthy or untrustworthy (a relaxed expression versus wide, intensely staring eyes), dominant or submissive (a faint scowl and tight lips versus slightly elevated brows and a slightly downturned mouth) and competent or incompetent (tightly focused eyes and a set mouth versus an unfocused look and an expressionless mouth).
The children viewed the faces on a computer screen and were asked to point to the ones that were “nice” or mean.” Almost universally, the children assigned the “nice” descriptor to trustworthy, submissive and competent faces, and the “mean” descriptor to the other ones.
Even as young as age three, 84 per cent of the children chose that way, with the number going up to 97pc among the oldest ones.
The second study was essentially identical to the first, except that the images of the faces were manipulated so that the differences in expressions were a bit subtler, and, at least in theory, harder to read. But the children read them almost as well as they had in the previous study.
In the third study, children were shown pictures of the more extreme, less subtle dominant or submissive and trustworthy or untrustworthy faces and were given a selection of images of desirable objects—cookies, candy, a banana, chocolate, a present. They were then shown the faces and told, “This is Edgar and this is Martin. If you had only one cookie [or banana or present] who would you give it to?”
Overall, 68pc of the children chose to reward the submissive and trustworthy faces, though the youngest kids brought the average down, again scoring little better than chance. “The act of giving gifts to ‘nicer’-looking faces…appears to emerge around age five, but not earlier,” the researchers wrote.
The final study combined the earlier ones, asking the children to identify the faces with the more positive traits and choose which ones should receive the gifts. In this case, the researchers were looking for what they called “concordance,” with the more desirable personalities getting rewarded with gifts.
Again, the ability to connect these dots improved with age, with no significant concordance among the youngest, and 91pc among the oldest. According to the study, children are discerning and even unforgiving. They can spot the good, the bad and the ugly!
They know what they like and who they like; they make those decisions quickly and act accordingly and they get better at it as they age!
Reem Antoon is a former GDN news editor. She can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org