For children, an individual’s trustworthiness is linked to how attractive they find that person. Children may not trust a person if they are less attractive, says a new study.
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, investigates how children’s abilities to make trustworthiness judgments, based on the appearance of people, change over time. The findings showed that the ability to make the judgment about one’s trustworthiness develops as one grows older.
Also, girls proved to be better at trustworthiness judgment than boys.
In addition, the children were also found to look to a person’s attractiveness as an indication of their character.
People use facial cues to make judgments on a person’s character — and this ability to infer social traits is a crucial part of a social functioning and development, the researchers said. Although well researched in babies and adults, the development of this ability in children was not previously known, they added.
The study adds to a growing body of work showing that attractiveness is a universal language when it comes to that all-important first impression, said Fengling Ma from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University in China. For the study, the team assessed 138 participants — groups of children aged eight, 10 and 12 years old and compared them to a group of adults.
They used a face generation program (FaceGen) to produce 200 images of male faces — all with a neutral expression and direct gaze.
In the first of two sessions, each participant was shown each face and asked to rate how trustworthy they thought that person was.
A second session followed a month later where participants repeated the exercise, this time, rating the attractiveness of the same faces.
The researchers looked first at the ratings of trustworthiness, and level of agreement of the ratings within and between the groups. Next, they looked at the ratings of trustworthiness and attractiveness given to each face.
They found a strong, direct relationship between the two traits — the faces deemed more trustworthy were also considered to be more attractive.
This relationship also strengthened with age and shows that like adults, children also look to a person’s attractiveness as an indication of their character.
More prejudiced with age?
The researchers also found that the strength of the association between finding someone attractive and trusting him increased with age.
As they grew older, children also appeared to be more in agreement with each other when making a judgment of trustworthiness. The adult students had for instance more answers in common than other age groups.
The researchers conclude that a”beauty stereotype” is formed from an early age, and remains throughout adulthood. “Attractiveness is a universal facial cue for trustworthiness judgments during childhood,” the study authors concluded.