How Long Will People Find Your Child Adorable?

How Long Will People Find Your Child Adorable?

Not very long at all and certainly not as long as you think, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. [1]

Psychologists Lu Zhu Luo, Hong Li, and Kang Lee – in China, and at the University of Toronto – recruited 60 men and women and showed then a large sample of children’s faces ranging from infants to 6-and-half-year-olds. The participants were asked to rate each face’s likeability (i.e. how much do you like the face?) and attractiveness (i.e. how attractive is the face?). The researchers wanted to know if younger kids would be given higher attractiveness ratings than older kids – and, if so, at what age does the cut-off happen from ‘OMG how adorable’ to ‘merely cute?’

The answer? Yes, it’s as expected. Men and women rated infants as cuter than toddlers, who, in turn are rated as cuter than young children. The big drop-off in cuteness appears to happen somewhere between preschool and kindergarten. The researchers identified it as approximately age 4 ½.

So why the big drop-off with school aged kids?

It has to do with the change in the shape of the children’s faces.

Infants have a special set of features, such as a protruding forehead, a large head, a round face, big eyes, and a small nose or mouth. As a species, we have evolved to be attracted to these very babyish features and find them adorable. These cues make us feel soft and protective, whether or not we’re biologically related — which increases the likelihood of the baby’s survival. Their cuteness is a kind of self-defence mechanism because, I presume, if parents weren’t reduced to cooing high-talking idiots at the sight of their baby, any rational adult with have tossed the little bundle of trouble onto the trash heap long ago. Good for the parents… but bad for the long-term survival of the species.

Doubt me? Scientific studies have found that infants that have tiny eyes, flat foreheads, and square faces, for instance, are less likely to receive attention.

So, that explains why most people are dippy for babies. What about older kids? And why four and a half years old?

Facial cranial growth is gradual, as is a child’s independence from constant care-giving. Children’s faces lose some of their universal appeal right around the age that they don’t need it anymore to (merely) survive — somewhere around kindergarten-age. Incidentally, this interval — four to five years — is the same as natural birth spacing — when our foremothers would become pregnant with their next baby.

In short, we find kids less adorable at about the age where they are more or less able to take care of themselves to a large extent… and it is also at about this age (give or take) that mom’s are ready for the next child.

So next time you find a baby too cute for words and want to pinch its cheeks… just remember… if it wasn’t for this reaction, you’d probably put the baby on the curb on recycling day.


[1] A tip of the hat and a huge debt of gratitude to Jena Pincott’s blog for the inspiration and source of much of the material in this article.

Full Disclosure: I am not the kind of person who usually gushes and coos when I see a baby. In fact, almost every time I have an infant presented to me, it is all I can do to stop from saying, “Oh my goodness! This baby… looks just like every  other baby I’ve seen in my whole life!”

There have been exceptions. A certain RLS comes to mind. Yes, the next generation of Stealth Hasidim has begun to arrive!


2 comments on “How Long Will People Find Your Child Adorable?

  1. leeschmidt says:

    Children are never adorable.

  2. i like this photo of this baby picture somuch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

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