At some time, in some situations, parents have been faced with the heart-breaking dilemma of not having enough resources to care for all of their children. Even now, starvation is sadly a very real risk for many children. When this happens, parents may have to choose between giving all the food to one child so that it can live, or sharing the food and risk losing both children. Ethically, this is an awful choice. Biologically, it's isn't a good choice either, but at least the answer is clearer. Biologically speaking, a parent should decide to invest their resources in the child that has the greatest chance of benefiting/surviving from them. To this end, facial cues of child health may influence parental investment decisions.
To investigate this possibility, we have conducted two studies to determine how adults respond to cues of low body weight, and cues of high body weight. By digitally decreasing or increasing the soft tissue on an infant or child face, we can simulate different body weights.
In accordance with our prediction, we found that faces with altered body weights received significant lower health ratings from adult viewers. The same faces were also rated as less cute, and less desirable for hypothetical adoption! This supports our hypothesis that child facial cues of health may influence parental investment decisions.
It is important to note that these appear to be unconscious biases, rather than deliberate biases. That makes them difficult to measure, and perhaps difficult to control. Nevertheless, we firmly believe that any such biases can be overcome by deliberate care and affection. Children with low- or high-body weight faces are not doomed to poor parental care! We simply believe that it is important that if these biases exist in real-life situations, adults should simply make the extra effort to overcome them.
Created November 2010