Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a serious developmental disorder associated with the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. It is associated with significant mental and physical problems. One of the characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the facial appearance of children with the disorder.

As our earlier (Volk & Quinsey, 2002) work has shown, adult hypothetical adoption decisions are influenced by infant facial cues of health. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome shares many facial characteristics with other disorders. We therefore used it as a model for general faciocranial dysformities (i.e., abnormal looking faces associated with a medical condition). It was our belief that adults would prefer normal faces compared to FAS faces, and that they would prefer FAS faces digitally altered to appear normal over normal faces that were digitally altered to have FAS characteristics. Specifically, we altered the upper lip, the philtrum, and the eyes according to the standards for FAS.

Health face on the left, health face morphed to display FAS characteristics on the right

As can be seen from the manipulation above, our technique was very subtle. Indeed, adults did not consciously report noticing the differences, and even we had to break out measurements to tell all of the differences! Nevertheless, our predictions were supported by the data that showed a significant bias in the health, cuteness, and adoption preference ratings for infant faces that were normal, or were altered to appear normal. This supports the general hypothesis that adults are sensitive to, and biased against, cues of infant facial dysformities.

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. Most importantly, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is 100% preventable! To find out more about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, please visit the Center for Disease Control.

Other Infant and Child Facial Cues that we've studied include:

Created November 2010