Detecting correlations in infancy : implications for the development of the “beauty is good” stereotype

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Rosen, Lisa H.

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Preferences for attractive individuals emerge early in life. Infants demonstrate both visual and social preferences for attractive individuals (Langlois et al., 1987; Langlois, Roggman, Reiser-Danner, 1990). By preschool age (3-6.5 years of age) children associate positive characteristics with attractive individuals and negative characteristics with unattractive individuals (Dion, 1973). This bias has been termed the “beauty is good” stereotype because of the multitudinous positive characteristics attributed to attractive individuals. The question remains as to how we can explain the development of a rudimentary form of the “beauty is good” stereotype in infancy as well as the evolution of this bias into its almost adult-like form by the age of three. The goal of the current studies was to propose and take the first step in examining two potential mechanisms behind the development of the “beauty is good” stereotype. The first of these posits infants’ ability to detect statistical regularities that exist in their environment. Attractive individuals may engage in more positive behaviors while unattractive individuals engage in more negative behaviors. Infants may detect these differences and use them to form a theory about the role of attractiveness in personality and behavior. The second explanation proposes that infants are biased to connect features of their environment that “go together.” Attractiveness is positively valenced (i.e., preferred) and therefore might be more readily associated with other positively valenced traits, while unattractiveness is negatively valenced and may be more readily associated with negatively valenced traits. Ten and twelve-month-olds infants were habituated to high and low attractive female faces and smiling and frowning schematic faces paired in a manner congruent with the “beauty is good” stereotype (attractive-smiling, unattractive-frowning). Ten month old infants responded to the individual faces presented but not to the relationship in which they were paired. The 12-month-olds displayed evidence of detecting the correlations presented. These results suggest that infants are able to match attractiveness and valence which is consistent with both of the proposed mechanisms



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