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Last Updated: Monday, 6 September, 2004, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Newborns prefer beautiful faces
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff, at the BA festival

Newborn baby   BBC
The newly born show a clear preference for attractive faces
Newborn babies - just like adults - prefer to look at an attractive face, new research in the UK has shown.

The University of Exeter study reveals that infants are born with in-built preferences which help them to make sense of their new environment.

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.

"You can show them pair after pair of faces that are matched for everything other than attractiveness. This leads to the conclusion that babies are born with a very detailed representation of the human face," said Dr Alan Slater, a psychologist at Exeter.

Starting early

"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.

He added that, 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.

Conventional musical choice

The studies were conducted with one person holding the baby in an upright position and holding it towards a board displaying the image pair. An observer then recorded the child's responses.

The researchers also 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.

The body-talk of 'social babies'
05 Aug 04  |  Berkshire

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