adults, newborn babies prefer to look at an attractive face, according
to new research carried out at the University of Exeter.
The study reveals that infants are born with inbuilt preferences which
help them to make sense of their new environment.
Placed before photos of a fashion model and a plain-looking woman,
a newborn will be drawn to the prettier face.
The finding undermines the theory that people develop an idea of attractiveness
from the experience of mixing with different individuals.
Instead, it appears that everyone is born with a pre-programmed understanding
of what makes a person attractive.
were shown two images side by side, one showing an attractive face
and the other a less attractive one.
researchers say the infants spent more time looking at the attractive
face than the less attractive one.
"Attractiveness is not simply in the eye of the beholder. It's in
the eye of the infant right from the moment of birth, and possibly
before birth," said Dr Alan Slater, a psychologist at Exeter.
can show them pair after pair of faces that are matched for everything
other than attractiveness.
are born with inbuilt preferences.
leads to the conclusion that babies are born with a very detailed
representation of the human face.
helps them to recognise familiar faces - particularly that of the
mother - and it helps them in learning about the social world."
manage to do this despite their comparatively blurred vision.
"The mother's face at first seems blurred to the newborn, but
it can discriminate the mother's face from that of female strangers
as little as 15 hours from birth," Dr Slater explained.
On average, the babies spent 80% of the time looking at the attractive
face in the pair.
Newborns used in the study averaged about two days old, but some
were just a few hours old.
is not simply in the eye of the beholder, it is in the brain of
the newborn infant right from the moment of birth and possibly prior
to birth," the University of Exeter researcher said.
In later life people still recognised conventionally attractive
faces, even though they might choose a plain partner with whom they
feel more suited.
Another study carried out by Dr Slater's team suggested that babies
were also born with an innate ear for music.
The researchers found that newborns seem to have certain musical
preferences built in from birth.
displayed a red stripe on the board in front of the newborn. When
the newborns looked at the stripe, the researchers played a piece
of music. When the newborns looked away, the music was stopped.
preferences (again measured by the attention they paid to the stimulus)
were recorded by observers.
you play Vivaldi's Four Seasons forward, then they like it. But
if you play Vivaldi backwards, they don't like it so much,"
said Dr Slater.
results are being presented at the 2004 BA Festival of Science in
first published: 7th September 2004