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Group led by Kyoto University confirms that infant 'cuteness' is influenced not only by appearance but also personality


According to the baby schema effect, the tender appearance of babies and children makes adults feel that they are cute and promotes child−rearing behavior by heightening nurturing motivation towards them (the desire to care for them). However, infants under the age of three, when the baby schema effect is supposedly the strongest, are the victims of abuse in every culture and society. So, why are these children, who are supposed to be cute, excluded from care? Assistant Professor Reina Takamatsu and Professor Takashi Kusumi of the Graduate School of Education at Kyoto University, and Professor Hiroshi Nittono of the Graduate School of Human Sciences at Osaka University, found that information about a child's personality affects their perceived cuteness, the impression of the child and other people's desire to nurture them. The group's research was published in the online edition of PLOS ONE.

The research group manipulated information about a child's personality and tested its impact on perceived cuteness and the desire people had to nurture them. They conducted an experiment online with a group of 72 women in their 20s−40s (Experiment 1: 31.9% of participants had children) and a group of 108 women (Experiment 2: 42.8% of participants had children).

First, they presented a picture of a child's face and evaluated it for cuteness and initial impression (pre−assessment). They then presented the child's face and personality information (positive, negative and no information) in pairs and attached it to accompany the child's face. After manipulating the personality information, the participants were again asked to rate the cuteness and impressions (post−evaluation).

The results showed that cuteness ratings and positive impression ratings were higher for children with favorable personalities and lower for children with unfavorable personalities, even though their appearance was the same. Furthermore, unfavorable personality information predicted a decline in the motivation to take care of them through a decrease in perceived cuteness.

In Experiment 2, the children were divided into three groups according to their initial cuteness (baseline cuteness ratings low, medium and high) and the same items were repeated one week later to examine whether the effect of personality information was sustained.

The results showed that positive personalities were rated higher for their cuteness, warmth, competence. Conversely, the negative personalities led to lower ratings on the three indicators. Furthermore, the effect of negative personality information affected the cuteness rating after one week, regardless of the original cuteness.

Why is abuse repeated? A hope for a happy childhood

According to Takamatsu, "This research confirms through experimentation that what we consider cute is not just about appearance. The idea was inspired by the question I had of 'why?' whenever child abuse was reported in the news." Previous research has shown that caregivers at high risk of abuse have higher levels of depression and parenting stress and tend to perceive their children's words and actions in a negative light," she added.

"This study shows that feelings of cuteness and the motivation to nurture children may be persistently lowered when depression and stress cause people to focus on the bad aspects of their children. Conversely, adding information about the child's good side (for example, by interacting with others and gaining new perspectives) can help restore the original feelings. We hope that this will lead to a world where many children have happy childhoods, rather than leaving caregivers alone with their worries about childcare and life."

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. ( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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