Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Women 'have cute baby instinct'

Baby faces
The babies in the left column are deemed cuter than those on the right

Women are better at spotting a cute baby than men, according to a study.

Psychologists at St Andrews University discovered that women could determine a pretty baby instinctively by its chubby cheeks, big round eyes and button nose.

They used computer image manipulation to discover how subtle variations in attractiveness were picked up differently by the sexes.

The team suggests that cuteness sensitivity is affected by female reproductive hormones.

The researchers at St Andrews, along with colleagues at the universities of Bern, Bielefeld and York, chose 10 images from a pool of over 100 baby photos and combined them into a composite of a typically attractive baby face.

They also selected 10 images to create a less appealing baby face shape.

'Maternal resources'

They found that women aged 19-26 and 45-51 were more sensitive to differences in infant cuteness than men aged 19-26 and 53-60.

However, women aged 53-60 performed at the same level as the men when determining the attractiveness of the newborns.

Dr Reiner Sprengelmeyer explained: "Because average age at menopause is 51 years in the UK, these findings suggest the possible involvement of reproductive hormones in cuteness sensitivity.

"We therefore compared cuteness discrimination in pre and post menopausal women of the same age alongside women taking and not taking oral contraceptives (progesterone and oestrogen).

"Pre-menopausal women and young women taking oral contraceptives - which raise hormone levels artificially - were more sensitive to variations of cuteness than their respective comparison groups.

"Given that cuteness is considered an indicator of being young, helpless, and in need of care, we hypothesise that the ability to detect small variations in the degree of cuteness may have evolved to guide the allocation of necessary maternal resources to the infant."

Further research will explore whether cuteness sensitivity is a factor in post-natal depression.

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