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Do babies like prettier people?

Do babies have preferences for prettier people? This is an interesting question that a number of researchers have explored. Babies are born with the capability for facial processing and recognition. Young infants show attentional biases to attractive faces, suggesting an innate preference. However, what defines an “attractive” face is influenced by experience and varies across cultures. The tendency for babies to look longer at faces adults deem attractive appears to increase between 3 and 8 months of age. This may reflect an interaction between innate preferences and learned experience. Ultimately, the research suggests babies prefer to look at faces adults perceive as pretty, but exposure and experience play key roles in shaping babies’ notions of attractiveness.

Do babies have innate preferences for attractive faces?

Research suggests that infants as young as 2-3 months old prefer to look at faces that adults rate as attractive over faces rated as unattractive. For example, one study showed 3-month-old infants pairs of faces. One face in each pair was rated by adults as highly attractive and the other as unattractive. The babies looked longer at the more attractive faces.

Another study found that 6-month-old infants looked longer at composite images of multiple faces that adults rated as highly attractive compared to composites of unattractive faces. This indicates an innate attraction to features humans perceive as aesthetically pleasing.

Face processing abilities in newborns

Even newborn infants possess face processing skills that allow them to show preferences for attractiveness:

  • Newborns can imitate simple facial gestures like tongue protrusion and mouth opening
  • Within hours of birth, infants prefer to look at face-like patterns compared to other visual patterns
  • Newborns show a preference for their mother’s face over a stranger’s face

These basic face processing skills could allow babies to detect differences in facial attractiveness from birth.

The role of symmetry

One factor that may influence facial attractiveness preferences in infants is symmetry. Human faces that are more symmetrical are perceived as more attractive. Symmetry may signal biological quality, health, and genetic fitness to potential mates.

Newborn infants prefer to look at symmetrical over asymmetrical faces, suggesting an inborn preference that does not require postnatal experience. The tendency to prefer symmetry appears to be present at birth and may contribute to early attractiveness biases.

How do preferences develop through infancy?

Innate preferences provide a basic foundation, but real-world experience shapes infants’ notions of attractiveness over time:

  • 3-8 month old babies increasingly prefer faces rated as attractive by adults
  • By 7-12 months, infants make attractiveness judgements similar to adults
  • Infants acquire culture-specific norms of attractiveness between 9-12 months

For example, when shown faces from their own ethnic group and other ethnic groups, infants develop preferences for own-group faces by 9 months. Their notions of attractiveness are tuned by exposure.

The role of gazes and expressions

Other facial cues that influence developing attractiveness preferences include gaze direction and emotional expressions:

  • By 4 months, infants prefer smiling over neutral faces
  • By 6 months, infants prefer faces with direct gaze over averted gaze

Smiles and direct eye contact likely signal positive social engagement. Infants are drawn to faces displaying these cues.

Baby-faced features

Babyish facial features like large eyes, round cheeks, small nose and chin are deemed attractive in both infants and adults. This reflects a biological predisposition called “kindchenschema” that primes caregiving responses. Infants likely prefer to look at “babyfaces” due to an innate attentional bias shaped by evolution.

Do individual differences influence preferences?

Just as adults display individual differences in attractiveness judgments, some babies show stronger or weaker preferences:

  • Girls exhibit stronger preferences for attractive faces than boys in infancy
  • More attentive infants show greater differentiation between attractive and unattractive faces
  • Infants with faster information processing prefer attractive faces more

These individual variations suggest attractiveness preferences are multi-determined. Innate attentional biases interact with infant characteristics and postnatal experience.

How do infants respond to attractiveness experimentally?

Researchers have used innovative methods to study facial attractiveness preferences in preverbal infants:

Visual preference tasks

Infants are presented with two faces side-by-side and researchers measure their looking time at each face. Preference for one face suggests it is perceived as more attractive.


Infants are first habituated to a series of unattractive faces. Then an attractive face is introduced. Increased looking time at the new attractive face indicates it stands out.

Violation of expectancy

After being familiarized to pairings of attractive and unattractive faces with objects, infants look longer when these pairings are switched, indicating surprise.

Brain imaging

Techniques like fMRI reveal specific brain areas that show greater activation when infants view attractive vs. unattractive faces.

How do attractiveness biases affect behavior?

Do facial attractiveness preferences shape how infants relate to people? Some evidence suggests they do:

  • 3-6 month olds mimic facial expressions more from attractive models
  • 10 month olds accept toys more readily from attractive adults
  • 12 month olds seek proximity to, socially reference, and imitate attractive over unattractive adults

Such findings indicate that infants don’t just passively prefer to look at pretty faces – attractiveness shapes social cognition and behavior from early in life.

How does culture impact attractiveness norms?

Despite innate biases, culture strongly influences perceived facial attractiveness:

  • Ideals and preferences for attractiveness vary enormously across cultures
  • Exposure shapes culture-specific norms during sensitive periods in infancy
  • Japanese infants prefer more “babyfaced” adults than do British infants

Though some universal standards exist, notions of facial attractiveness are largely determined by cultural environment and display significant diversity.

Cross-cultural attractiveness preferences

Culture Highly Rated Attractive Facial Features
Japan Large eyes, small nose, pale skin, round face
Brazil Small nose, light skin, straight hair, round eyes
Hadza tribe, Tanzania Round face, thin jaw, high forehead
U.S. Symmetry, averageness, sexual dimorphism, youthfulness


Research indicates babies prefer pretty faces from early infancy. This reflects innate attentional biases shaped by evolution. However, culture and experience dramatically impact notions of facial attractiveness. Though initial preferences exist, infants rapidly learn culture-specific norms for attractiveness. While some universal standards apply, judgments of facial beauty are largely determined by the cultural environment in which babies develop.