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.
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.