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Adults Form First Impressions from Faces and Children Do the Same!

 Face and traitsA new study finds that just like adults, children as young as three is prone to judge a person’s character traits such as competence and trustworthiness simply by looking at the individual’s face. And they present remarkable consensus in the judgments they make.

This study, led by Emily Cogsdill, psychological scientists of Harvard University reveals that the predisposition to judge others according to physical characteristics begins early in our childhood and doesn’t require years of social experience.

Previous studies have shown that adults usually use facial features to judge others about their traits, even with only a brief glance. However, it remains unclear whether such tendency is gradually formed as a result of life experiences or rather, it is a more fundamental impulse that is built in early life.

Cogsdill and co-workers write: “If the face-to-trait inferences emerges slowly across development, we may speculate that these inferences call for prolonged social experience to get to an adult-like state.” In this assumption, children and adults may make very different judgments. On the contrary, “If instead children’s inferences resemble those of adults, this would suggest that face-to-trait character inferences are a more fundamental social cognitive ability that forms early in life.”

To testify the ideas, the researchers invited 99 adults and 141 children from 3 to 10 to evaluate pairs of computer-generated faces that differed on one of the three traits: competence (i.e., smart/not smart), dominance (i.e., strong/not strong) and trustworthiness (i.e., mean/nice).

After being shown with a pair of faces, the participants were asked to make some judgments such as “which one of the people looks very nice?”

 computer-genertaed faces

The computer-generated faces used in the research. *Image source: osf.

The results corresponded to the researchers’ expectation that the adults demonstrated consensus on the traits they attributed to specific faces. And such consensus was also found in children. Children ages 3 to 4 were just slightly less consistent in their evaluation than were 7-year-olds. The older the children were, the more their assessments agreed with those of adults’, suggesting a probable developmental trend.

In general, child appeared to be most consistent when judging trustworthiness, compared to the other two traits, indicating that children might tend to pay much more attention to the demeanor of a face – that is, whether the face is broadly positive or negative.

So far, the question of when the tendency to infer character through faces first emerges is still not addressed. It might be possible to get answers by performing study on younger children with the same computer-generated faces.

The researchers note: “If such inferences are rooted early in life, as the data reveal, even infants may be able to associate faces with trait-consistent behaviors, such as those conveying prosociality.”

Mahzarin Banaji, the senior researcher of the study and Harvard psychology professor, said that she and co-workers planned to investigate how social experience over time affect social perception.

Source: Psychologicalscience.

Image source: jwfan