Parents of ugly children know

Psychology of cuteness : Is that cute!

An ugly baby is a very nasty thing, wrote Queen Victoria (1819–1901), mother of nine: “I like them better when they are nice and pretty.” The British tabloid “Daily Mail” then called them “Grumpiest.” Granny of all ”.

But the grouchy grandma doesn't seem to be alone with her attitude: A few years ago US researchers found that attractive newborns are treated more lovingly by their mothers than less attractive ones. The behavioral biologist Konrad Lorenz already suspected in the middle of the last century that certain features on the face of children influence the bond with their parents - especially a large head compared to the body, large eyes and round cheekbones. Lorenz coined the term “child schema” for this.

Particularly sensitive cuteness sensor

The more a child conforms to this pattern, the cuter we usually find them - women and men alike. However, the cuteness sensor seems to be particularly sensitive in sexually mature women, especially around ovulation. At least the work of the psychologist Janek Lobmaier from the Institute for Psychology at the University of Bern points in this direction.

Using special software, Lobmaier created a slightly cuter and a slightly less cute version from photos of baby faces. He presented the manipulated pairs of images to women and asked them to choose whichever face was sweeter. In the days around ovulation, women were particularly often correct in their assessment. A few years ago, Lobmaier was able to show that women do better than men in this task, but that this difference in performance disappears after menopause. The hormone oxytocin is apparently responsible for the fluctuations in the female cuteness sensor, speculates Lobmaier in the current work, which appeared in the journal "Hormones and Behavior". The woman's oxytocin level fluctuates over the course of the cycle and is highest around ovulation.

Cute means able to survive

Oxytocin is also released after birth. Therefore, mothers may have a particularly good eye for the cuteness of their offspring in the days after the birth. “It is assumed that cute babies have better genetic makeup than less cute ones,” says Lobmaier. “In the times when our ancestors lived, resources like food were often scarce. It made sense to take better care of the particularly cute children. "

The Viennese anthropology professor Katrin Schaefer considers this explanation to be unconvincing. “We know from the animal kingdom, but also from humans, that in extreme emergencies, the younger children are the first to be sacrificed by their parents,” she says. “The least amount of money was invested in the youngest.” The probability that they will survive is lower anyway. If our ancestors were forced to choose between an infant or a three-year-old, it made more sense to choose the older child. "Older children are usually less cute than babies - simply choosing for cuteness therefore doesn't make much sense from an evolutionary point of view." In any case, the sensitivity fluctuations found in the study are rather small. “The phenomenon may be of no biological significance,” says Schäfer.

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