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Looking Younger…. Looking Less Masculine?

December 29, 2009 10 comments

Egan & Cordan (2008) digitally altered the faces of 17-year-old girls (n=10) to look either younger (morphed to appear similar to the prototype of 10-year-old girls – top row) or older (similar to the prototype of 20-year-old women – bottom row). Additionally, some stimuli were altered by adding digital make-up (right column). The authors had forensic interests and were exploring the effect of alcohol consumption on judgments of age and attractiveness. As a result, they did not report the specific data on attractiveness ratings alone, but, did conclude that faces that appear younger are found more attractive. Raters consisted of an equal number of adult women and men between the ages of 18-70.

The faces were manipulated using proprietary software, Psychomorph. To my eye, the morphed images look good, though, there appear to be distortions in the ears of the “older” faces. Eye size, distance between eyes, lips, forehead height, hair, and clothes do not appear different (to my eye) between the “younger” and the “older” sample stimuli. Though there may be a sense of greater protrusion in the “older” forehead…. The primary apparent differences are a larger nose and longer lower face in the “older” version.

While we don’t have the specific data reported in this paper, the conclusions are consistent with what is generally asserted: looking young is attractive in human females. At least one contributing reason for this attraction to youthful appearance in female faces is the increased rate of development in male faces at puberty, relative to female faces. That is, men’s and women’s faces show the same growth spurt: but males show this growth more markedly. This variation results in larger noses, mandibles, and sinuses (along with brows and cheekbones) in men.

Since these areas are larger in men, larger features become masculine features. Since these facial features are smaller in women, smaller ones become feminine. Another way to conceptualize this: looking younger looks less masculine.  To my way of thinking, this explains what might appear to be a disturbing preference in both men and women for female faces with some prepubescent structural characteristics.

Wayne Hooke

ResearchBlogging.orgEgan, V., & Cordan, G. (2009). Barely legal: Is attraction and estimated age of young female faces disrupted by alcohol use, make up, and the sex of the observer? British Journal of Psychology, 100 (2), 415-427 DOI: 10.1348/000712608X357858

Careful – She’s Cute!

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Sherman, Haidt & Coan (2009) have found evidence that exposure to cute stimuli improves fine motor performance. In brief, subjects were exposed to images of cats/dogs or puppies/kittens and then they played the children’s game, Operation. Both studies reported in this paper found that exposure to cuteness increased subjects’ ability to successfully play Operation. Sherman et al suggest that cute stimuli can activate a human caregiving system that would have made essential physical contact with newborns/small children safer. The basic idea is that when a human sees something cute (like a puppy or a baby) a cognitive-behavioral control system is activated that ensures careful, cautious, delicate handling.

Strengths

  • Controlled and assessed other cognitive/emotional influences of the animal images that were presented.

Cautions

  • Authors assume, but do not demonstrate, that the improved fine-motor performance in response to cuteness can lead to improved reproductive success because of the fragility of human infants/small children. This relationship between fine-motor activation and behaviors helpful to fragile children has not – to my knowledge – been demonstrated.
  • The nature of human infant/small child fragility is assumed, but neither demonstrated nor made explicit.

Given that feminization of women’s faces is generally found to be attractive, and that feminization can be characterized as juvenilization, this research has implications for the psychology of beauty in that it suggests that cute adult faces might have a similar effect on fine-motor performance/the proposed human caregiving system. Of course, the existence of this system and its putative adaptive purpose require additional research support before the conclusions can be generally accepted. Nonetheless, an interesting first step.

Wayne Hooke

Photo courtesy of Andrew Vargas, 2007.


ResearchBlogging.orgSherman, G., Haidt, J., & Coan, J. (2009). Viewing cute images increases behavioral carefulness. Emotion, 9 (2), 282-286 DOI: 10.1037/a0014904

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