Children are less likely to trust “ugly” individuals, according to a new study which found that as kids, how we perceive someone’s trustworthiness is linked to how attractive we find them.
Our ability to make this trustworthiness judgement develops as we grow, becoming more consistent as we approach adulthood, and girls are better at it than boys, researchers from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and Wenzhou Medical University in China said.
People use facial cues to make judgements on a person’s character – and this ability to infer social traits is a crucial part of social functioning and development, researchers said.
Although well studied in babies and adults, the development of this ability in children was not previously known, they said.
Researchers assessed 138 participants – groups of children aged eight, ten and 12 years old, and compared them to a group of adults.
They used a face generation programme (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 study analysed the responses of the children and adult control groups. Researchers looked firstly 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.
The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.