Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Getting cuter by the day...

If you've been wondering what age babies are the cutest, there's a scientific answer to that. Yes, there is. In the year 1979, Katherine A. Hildebrandt and Hiram E. Fitzgerald from the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University published the results of their study on "Adults' Perceptions of Infant Sex and Cuteness."

A totally representative group of about 200 American college students of child psychology were shown 60 chromatic photographs of infant faces: 5 male and 5 female each for six age levels (3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13 months). The babies were photographed by a professional photographer under controlled conditions when their facial expressions were judged to be relatively neutral, and the infants' shoulders were covered with a gray cape to hide clothing.

The study participants were instructed to rate the photos on a 5-point scale of cuteness (1: not very cute, 2: less cute than average, 3: average cuteness, 4: more cute than average, 5: very cute). The average rating was 2.75, ie somewhat less than averagely cute. The authors write that it's probably the selection of photos with neutral facial expressions and the grey cape which accounted for the students' overall perception as slightly less cute than average. And here's the plot of the results:
So, female cuteness peaks at 9 months.

For the above rating the participants were not told the gender of the child, but asked to guess it, which provided a 'perceived gender' assignment to each photo. In a second experiment, the participants were told a gender which however was randomly picked. It turned out that an infant perceived to be male but labeled female was perceived to be less cute than if it was labeled male. Thus the authors conclude that cuter infants are more likely to be perceived as female, and cuteness expectations are higher on females.

Partly related, Gloria just woke up:

23 comments:

stefan said...

You didn't discuss the lack of error bars in the plot ;-).

Actually, this apparent "dip" in the perceived cuteness of boys around the age of nine months makes me wonder if this is more than a statistical fluke, and if there really is a maximum in the perceived cuteness of girls of that age...

Cheers, Stefan

Robert said...

Just for comparison: male infant at six months: https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-gIHQvaKw1ws/TdqWHVrlXRI/AAAAAAAAA0U/VY61HHr1NTo/s720/IMG_4186.JPG

Georg said...

My father in law (I was told, I never met him because he died when my later wife was three) used to look in strangers baby carriages and then to comment: "Unser Kinner sinn schääner" (Our children are more beautiful) ....
:=)
Georg

Bee said...

Dear Stefan,

Since the sample group isn't really representative for anything, it seemed futile to discuss the meaningfulness of the points in the plot. Also, I'm not sure the result has ever been reproduced, so why bother with the details? I just thought thought it was entertaining what topics some people study. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Robert: CUTE! :o)

Bee said...

Hi Georg,

I am sure somebody has done a study on that too... Best,

B.

Bee said...

Robert: He's 6 months and eats bread already?

Christine said...

There is a universal law: parents always find their own babies the cutest in the world!

Here in Brazil we call it "father (or mother) owl".

Best,
Christine

Alyssa said...

I'm glad to see boy-cuteness peaks later. Something to look forward too ;)

Uncle Al said...

Uncle Al did his BS/Chem at Moo U, plucking pocket money as Psych. Dept volunteer meat. They examined urine cortisol as a stress/leadership indicator and EEGs for various reasons. Uncle Al for piss-ant World Dictator! EEGs suffered squiggles unlike those from others' heads.

Roland Berrill, Lancelot Ware, and Cyril Burt organized Mensa for spontaneous breeding against regression toward the mean in IQ. Stephan and Bee are their dreams. May the girls become wealthy as entertainers. Intelligence enrages the mean.

Psychology is self-defined relevant. Official predictions are absurd versus observation. More studies are needed.

Arun said...

Interesting study. The photos may get less cute; but the increasing repertoire of behavior of the infant makes it much more cute in real life than the photographs could ever capture.

So the study is possibly perfectly accurate but is also useless for the real world!

Robert said...

"Eat" is not an accurate description. It's more a distraction while the parents eat. He puts it (or preferred: a piece of pretzel) in his mouth and sucks on it but he does not properly chew or swallow since he has not realized that this bread thing has something to do with what he does with milk or pulp. And of course, has something else catches his attention the bread is dropped to the floor.

Bee said...

Hi Arun,

Yes, they were dealing with a very restricted notion of 'cuteness.' They were mostly concerned with the baby schema, thus the face photos rather than, say, videos that might have captured more of the infant's behavior. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

Interesting you have a special name for that. But why is it 'owl'? Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

An interesting study regarding a subjective matter. However the word “cute” in of itself doesn’t have a precise meaning. For example the free online dictionary has it as follows:

1. Delightfully pretty or dainty.
2. Obviously contrived to charm; precious
3. Shrewd; clever.


So being cute could have one found as pretty, charming or clever and in some cases it’s taken as all three. Therefore I would discount the study on the incompleteness of its data set and the lack of certainty in what’s being evaluated. Then of course for some no matter how much data is collected they won’t agree any of it fits the criteria; that is with Gloria and Lara being the exceptions of course:-)

”An ugly baby is a very nasty object - and the prettiest is frightful.”
-Queen Victoria


Best,

Phil

Christine said...

But why is it 'owl'?

Hi Bee,

The answer is in the link I have included in my previous post. In fact, it seems to be based on a tale of Aesop.

Best,
Christine

Christine said...

Sorry, based on La Fontaine´s fable.

Best,
Christine

Christine said...

Here is a excerpt:

In the fable, an owl asks a certain carnivorous bird to spare her young.

"And how will I recognize your young?" asks the bird.

"Well," says the owl, "they are the most beautiful little birds in the world."

Unfortunately, some time later, the owl finds to her horror that her own nest was ravaged and that her young had been devoured.

She goes to that bird in order to complain:

"You have betrayed me. You have eaten my young."

"How would I know they were yours? In my opinion, they were very, very ugly... They could not be yours".

Christine said...

Terrible, isn't it??

Best,

Christine

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

Yes, terrible! Sorry, I could have clicked on the link... I suppose what we should learn from that story is that beauty is not objective. I was just confused because in the tales I know the owl is usually the 'professor' who gives wise answers to everything. Then it seems like there is another lesson to learn here. Let's just replace the little birds with models...

"And how will I recognize your models?" asks the postdoc.

"Well," says the owl, "they are the most beautiful models in the world."


;-) Best,

B.

PS: Saw your twitpics of the bd party. Yummy! I just haven't figured out how to comment without also posting it to my feed.

Christine said...

Hi Bee,

Yes, beauty is not objective, and for parents you could say there is no room for discussion...

I have pity of mother owl, it's a terrible tale. Yes, the owl is often associated with wisdom, but in this case La Fontaine remind us that even the owl can lose its wisdom when it comes to its babies.

Best,

Christine

PS: Thanks! It seems that twitpic is directly connected with twitter, although I think it shouldn't be that way.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine & Bee,

Then there is the other way to look at this, which was often expressed by Groucho Marx in the singing a few bars of an old song for which he altered the lyrics to be:

You must have been a beautiful baby, because you couldn’t have been ugly all your life.” :-)

Best,

Phil