A new study suggests that children think the uglier you are, the less trustworthy you are.
The research, published in Frontiers in Psychology found that as children, how we perceive someone's trustworthiness is linked to how attractive we find them.
Our ability to make this trustworthiness judgement develops as we grow, becoming more consistent as we approach adulthood, and, girls are better at it than boys.
This latest research is linked to the existence of the so-called ‘beauty stereotype’ that claims ugly people do worse than their more attractive peers who are considered to be smarter, more sociable and more successful.
The study also backs up previous research that found children are more likely to trust pretty women.
People use facial cues to make judgements on a person's character — and this ability to infer social traits is a crucial part of social functioning and development.
Although well researched in babies and adults, the development of this ability in children was not previously known.
Understanding this process paints a more complete picture of this development from birth through to adulthood. It also adds to a growing body of work showing that attractiveness is a universal language when it comes to that all-important first impression.
Researchers used a face generation program (FaceGen) to produce 200 images of male faces — all with a neutral expression and direct gaze. In the first of two sessions, each participant was shown each face, and asked to rate how trustworthy they thought that person was. A second session followed a month later where participants repeated the exercise, this time rating the attractiveness of the same faces.
The study analysed the responses of children and adult control groups. The researchers looked firstly at the ratings of trustworthiness, and level of agreement of the ratings within and between the groups. Did the children within the same age groups agree on how trustworthy each of the faces was?
They found that the level of agreement within and between the age groups and the adult group increased with age. From this, they were able to infer that the children's ability to judge trustworthiness therefore also increased with age.
Next, the researchers looked at the ratings of trustworthiness and attractiveness given to each face. They found a strong, direct relationship between the two traits — the faces deemed more trustworthy were also considered to be more attractive.
This relationship also strengthened with age, and reveals that, like adults, children also look to a person's attractiveness as an indication of their character.