Hormonal cues for baby cuteness: women on oral contraceptives know when a face is adorable.
Everyone oohs and ahs over babies. Ironically, new research suggests that young women taking oral contraceptives are especially good at picking out babies with the most adorable little mugs.
Female sex hormones sensitize women to differences in babies' cuteness and may encourage mothers to bond with their babies, propose Reiner Sprengelmeyer of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and his colleagues. When given choices between computer-manipulated images of a baby's face, premenopausal women discern gradations in the cuteness of the face better than either postmenopausal women or men of all ages, the team reports in the February Psychological Science.
In the study, young women taking hormone-boosting contraceptive pills outdid those not taking contraceptives at detecting babies' cuteness.
"It's tough to know what to make of these findings without knowing the ways in which cute babies differ from uncute babies," says Steven Gangestad of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Earlier research found that mothers of babies independently rated as more attractive were particularly affectionate and playful with their children. It's not known whether a cute face signals an advantage for a baby, Gangestad notes, or whether mothers who invest special effort in raising cute babies reap big dividends later.
Sprengelmeyer's team used a computer program to define the average shape of cute and less cute baby faces based on previously ranked faces. The team used those findings to create images of varying cuteness for 10 new baby faces. Adult volunteers viewed pairs of faces of the same baby and identified the cuter face.