Azara Blog: Young(ish) women are allegedly good at spotting cute babies

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Date published: 2009/01/21

The BBC says:

Women are better at spotting a cute baby than men, according to a study.

Psychologists at St Andrews University discovered that women could determine a pretty baby instinctively by its chubby cheeks, big round eyes and button nose.

They used computer image manipulation to discover how subtle variations in attractiveness were picked up differently by the sexes.

The team suggests that cuteness sensitivity is affected by female reproductive hormones.

The researchers at St Andrews, along with colleagues at the universities of Bern, Bielefeld and York, chose 10 images from a pool over over 100 baby photos and combined them into a composite of a typically attractive baby face.

They also selected 10 images to create a less appealing baby face shape.

They found that women aged 19-26 and 45-51 were more sensitive to differences in infant cuteness than men aged 19-26 and 53-60.

However, women aged 53-60 performed at the same level as the men when determining the attractiveness of the newborns.

Dr Reiner Sprengelmeyer explained: "Because average age at menopause is 51 years in the UK, these findings suggest the possible involvement of reproductive hormones in cuteness sensitivity.

"We therefore compared cuteness discrimination in pre and post menopausal women of the same age alongside women taking and not taking oral contraceptives (progesterone and oestrogen).

"Pre-menopausal women and young women taking oral contraceptives - which raise hormone levels artificially - were more sensitive to variations of cuteness than their respective comparison groups.

"Given that cuteness is considered an indicator of being young, helpless, and in need of care, we hypothesise that the ability to detect small variations in the degree of cuteness may have evolved to guide the allocation of necessary maternal resources to the infant."

So the researchers get to decide what is and is not cute. That is the first flaw. (And, needless to say, all babies are ugly. The only thing uglier than a baby human is a baby bird.) More worrying, though, is their claim that the result follows because "cuteness is considered an indicator of being young, helpless, and in need of care". Why is cuteness considered to be such an indicator? And is it such an indicator? Much more likely is that people prefer more attractive faces, as an indicator of fitness. But with this kind of research you can just make up any plausible explanation and unless it sounds totally ridiculous the media will just go along with it.

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