Superficial little babies

14 Jun

People show a preference for pretty faces. When does this bias begin? After years of exposure to Hollywood and Vogue magazine?

Psychologist Judith Langlois has found that infants as young as 2 months old demonstrate a preference for beauty.(http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct06/pretty.aspx)

Langlois hypothesizes “that attractive faces may gain some of their positive associations because they require less effort to perceive and categorize than unattractive ones… [B]eautiful faces are not just easy on the eyes, but also easy on the brain.”

In other words, when we have to stop and take extra time to process what we see (in this case, an unattractive face), the extra effort attaches a negative bias. Wow, right?

And all this happens before we even notice that we’re noticing–and evaluating–someone’s appearance. Of course, while none of us is immune to an apparently fundamental and very human tendency to prefer people who are attractive (as defined by regular, symmetrical features), all of us can choose whether or not to discriminate for or against people based on their looks. Langlois, for one, “takes pains to ensure she treats all of her students fairly regardless of their attractiveness, by setting exam make-up policies at the beginning of the term and refusing to make exceptions for individual students.” That is, she sets policy and expectation considering what is fair, given that it’s only human to be unfair.

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