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Four-Year-Olds Choose Friends Based on Looks

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Thanks to beauty researchers Elaine Hatfield and Nancy Etcoff, there’s no longer any dispute that a man’s height and a woman’s figure will forever chart the course of their life, for better or for worse. Where there is debate is in answering the question Why are looks so important?

Nature Versus Nurture

Some sociologists and psychologists insist that these biases are a result of advertising and our image-saturated world, while other say it’s biology and these preferences exist to hep us select the most genetically fit mates.

A new study released this week adds firepower to this second, biologically based argument.

Swiss researchers evaluated young children’s reactions to a condition called strabismus, in which the muscle’s of one eye don’t work right and a child’s gaze won’t align normally, making them appear cross eyed or wall-eyed. The condition is treated surgically. The goal of this new study was to determine whether early treatment has any advantages.

It does.

Researchers showed over 100 children, aged between three and 12, pictures of twins, one with strabismus and one without, and asked who they would want to celebrate their birthday with.

Older children repeatedly chose the twin with normal eyes.

Negative attitudes appear to emerge at approximately 6 years and increase with age.

~Swiss researchers comment at the end of their article

Psychologists explain that before age 4, children can’t process faces as a whole. They look at each eye individually and don’t notice when the two don’t line up. But as soon as that ability develops, we recognize that mis-aligned eyes are abnormal. And abnormal means scary, to kids. (And let’s be honest, adults, too.)

Teasing and bullying are some of the hardest parts of growing up. This line of research into human psychology suggests children and adults have a built-in biologic urge to judge others based on their looks. If such psychology is hard wired into us as early as age four, then I think the best way to help raise children to be compassionate human beings is not to suppress or deny their inborn tendencies, but to teach kids to recognize their feelings, and to react with kindness instead of cruelty.

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Dr. Cate

With over two decades of clinical experience and expertise in genetic and biochemical research, Dr. Cate can help you to reverse metabolic disease and reshape your body.

3 Comments

Catey

May 11, 2011 at 4:24 am

Very good points, Dana, about the \no way to tell the difference between someone with a demonstrable genetic defect and someone who was merely malnourished.\ I’m sure you get it, Dana, but for those who haven’t read the book yet, the difference is critically important.

The genetic effects that involve letter changes to our DNA (and impact our health, growth, or looks) would be called mutations, and are less likely to improve with good nutrition. But there are many malnutrition-related effects on our health, growth, and looks that are due to epigenetic effects, and that don’t change the letter code of the DNA so they would be potentially correctible. This means buying and making better is the best investment of money and time you can make for your children’s futures (and your own!)

Dana

May 1, 2011 at 4:44 pm

It’s hard to “grow up about the subject of looks” when you got the short end of the stick, lost the genetic lottery, etc. And the sad part is that so often the poor looks are a developmental issue–you have the DNA to look good, you just didn’t develop right, usually for reasons of maternal nutrition. The reason we judge all poor-looking people equally, from an instinctive standpoint, is we have no easy way to tell the difference between someone with a demonstrable genetic defect (extra chromosome, etc.) and someone who was merely malnourished. And it’s kind of sad because nutritional degeneration can be reversed, given enough time, enough knowledge and enough generations.

So yes, we do need to teach our children greater compassion. Because it’s not always the obvious stuff like strabismus, sometimes it’s more subtle differences that cause someone to be excluded–and differences that have nothing to do whatsoever with “genetic fitness.”

Sarah McNulty, Citrus Heights CA

August 31, 2010 at 7:01 am

It seems crazy that they have to do a study to show the obvious. Maybe they’ll be doing some studies involving gravity as well.

I heard a story on NPR the other day about this “poor” family who lived by themselves in the middle of the West Virginia mountains. It was on a show called “This American Life.” The reporter mentioned that, as poor and unusual as they were, they were never teased, ever. Not one of them–this by the kids’ own testimony. Then he went on to mention that each of the kids is perfectly gorgeous, blond hair and Hollywood good looks, saying that a movie about them would be maybe the first time in history that the actors weren’t as good looking as the real people they would be portraying.

I was amazed that he was allowed to include this pertinent fact on NPR. I’m surprised his producers didn’t insist that he attribute their popularity to something else, like self confidence (without any mention of where all that self confidence came from).

Anyway, hopefully we’ll all grow up about the subject of looks.

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