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Babies prefer beautiful faces
New born baby
Babies show a clear preference for attractive faces.
Newborn babies challenge the view that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder".

Researchers at Exeter University have found that infants just a few hours old show they prefer attractive faces.
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The BA Festival of Science 2004 will take place at the University of Exeter from 6 - 10 September 2004, and throughout the city from 4 - 11 September.

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Established in 1831, the BA organises major initiatives across the UK, including the annual BA Festival of Science, National Science Week, programmes of regional and local events, and an extensive programme for young people in schools and colleges.

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Just like 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.

Newborns were shown two images side by side, one showing an attractive face and the other a less attractive one.

The 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.

"You can show them pair after pair of faces that are matched for everything other than attractiveness.

Infants are born with inbuilt preferences.

"This leads to the conclusion that babies are born with a very detailed representation of the human face.

"It helps them to recognise familiar faces - particularly that of the mother - and it helps them in learning about the social world."

Newborns 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.

"Attractiveness 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.

Conventional musical choice

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.

They 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.

Their preferences (again measured by the attention they paid to the stimulus) were recorded by observers.

"If 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.

The results are being presented at the 2004 BA Festival of Science in Exeter.

Article first published: 7th September 2004
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