Infant & Child Facial Cues

My research on infant faces was inspired by the effect a baby has on adults when it enters the room. Conversations stop in mid-sentence as everyone gathers around the little bundle of joy. Even the roughest, gruffest men I know seem to melt when they are presented with the smiling face of an infant. What is it about infant faces that makes them so appealing and interesting to adults?

Konrad Lorenz suggested the idea of "Kindchenschema"- meaning that facial cues associated with infants could have evolved to elicit feelings of parental care in adults. Much as the bright red throats of baby birds provoke their avian parents to feed them, baby facial cues of high levels of fat, small noses, big eyes and foreheads, might all serve to influence adults' emotional responses to infants. And indeed, much research has shown that this is just so. Adults respond more positively to faces that appear infant-like, and tend to associate such features with the attributes of infants: innocence, vulnerability, and youth (even if present in adult faces).

I thus chose to examine this response in greater detail to determine if there were specific cues that influenced adults. In particular, I have examined cues of:

There is also the question of how different adult characteristics influence how adults view infant and child faces. I am currently analyzing data related to adult differences in sex (men vs. women), age, personality, experience with children, dating status, and socioeconomic status.

Future research is aimed at exploring whether our results will generalize to non-caucasian infant and adult populations.

Updated November 2010