Babies are beautiful. This is one of those things everyone just knows. I always figured this was one of those universal truths, like how chocolate is delicious and mittens keep your hands warm in the winter. Apparently, I was wrong. According to a new study, adults apparently think newborn babies are ugly, and it doesn't really help with parenting. And now I'm wondering if chocolate does actually taste delicious. Are these lies I've just been telling myself for years?
A new study by Brock University in Canada looked at whether or not people think newborns are actually cute (also, let us just say that this is pretty much the meanest topic for a study ever). Associate professor of child and youth studies Tony Volk and his team of researchers were interested in finding out whether or not potentially adoptive parents might be affected by certain factors, like a baby's "cuteness" when deciding to bring an infant home, according to the CBC.
To that end, the team showed 142 participants 54 photos of babies. The babies were either newborn, 3 months, or 6 months old. These participants were asked whether or not they would be willing to adopt each infant, rather disturbingly like a baby beauty pageant where they were asked to rate the babies on a scale from one to nine based solely on facial cues. The team looked at participant reactions to facial cues like cuteness, health, self-resemblance, and happiness, according to the CBC. And the researchers' results were somewhat surprising.
Volk and his team of researchers concluded that 6-month-old babies were considered the cutest by participants. In fact, newborns were rated the least cute of the group. As graduate student Prarthana Franklin, the lead author of the study, noted in a newsletter for Brock University:
We noticed adults rated the newborns as the least attractive and the six month olds had the highest ratings across all of the facial cues.
I know; Volk was surprised too. So he told the CBC that he decided to investigate further two theories to explain this phenomenon:
One theory is that babies' faces are cute, so babies themselves can get more care. That means the babies are in the driver's seat. [The other theory is] if adults are perceiving this differently, it suggests it's in the adult's interest if they find newborns as attractive as older infants.
Biologists have long believed that babies develop those cute characteristics (big eyes, chubby cheeks) over time, not really fully growing into their features until around, you guessed it, 6 months old. The Daily Mail noted that there could be a biological reason for this; it could be nature's way of delaying attachment until the risk of infant mortality wanes. A way to protect parents from heart break if they lose a child, although this is obviously not the case for parents who lose a baby.
A pretty morbid thought, but one that Volk explained in the Brock newsletter:
We wondered, why would there be this specific peak? But then, we read the medical literature, which was almost universal in that six month olds are better at surviving illnesses than younger babies.
So what's the takeaway from this study? Don't let looks get in the way of adoption. "We want to let parents know that if they're not instantly grabbed by this baby as much as they thought they might be, then that's normal," as Volk told the Daily Mail. "The bonding will build and grow over time."
Newborn babies need love too, guys, and as a mother of four I can tell you that in some ways they're easier to handle than those 6-month-old babies. Especially now that they've probably caught wind of the whole cuteness experiment. They're going to be just insufferable...
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.