When children find people ugly, they are less likely to trust them, scientists have said. Their findings reinforce the idea that a "beauty stereotype" exists: people who are seen as more attractive are also often considered smarter, more sociable and more successful.
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, investigates how children's abilities to make trustworthiness judgments, based on the appearance of people, change over time.
Pointing out that most of the time, our first impressions of others are informed by how attractive we find them, the researchers wanted to understand how this applied to children.
They therefore designed an experiment to assess how much a child's perception of trustworthiness is linked to perceived facial attractiveness.
Attractiveness and trustworthiness
More than 100 volunteers, including children aged eight to 12 and undergraduate students, participated in the study. The researchers, from Wenzhou Medical University, China, presented them with pictures of 200 male faces.
They asked them to rate how trustworthy each person photographed appeared to be. A month later, they were called back, and asked to say how attractive each face was, in their opinion.
Analysing the children's answers, the researchers found that their judgment of trustworthiness was clearly associated with whether they found someone attractive or not. They indeed identified a strong, direct relationship between the two traits: the faces deemed more trustworthy were also considered to be more attractive.
This suggests that, as with adults, children look to a person's attractiveness as an indication of their personality.
More prejudiced with age?
The researchers also found that the strength of the association between finding someone attractive and trusting him increased with age.
As they grew older, children also appeared to be more in agreement with each other when making a judgment of trustworthiness. The adult students had for instance more answers in common than other age groups.
The researchers conclude that a"beauty stereotype" is formed from an early age, and remains throughout adulthood. "Attractiveness is a universal facial cue for trustworthiness judgments during childhood," the study authors concluded.