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Bias Bonanza: The Deceiving Powers of the Baby-Face

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Our first impression of another person is often purely based on physical appearance and it can strongly influence our following judgments. For instance, many experiments have shown that people tend to judge beautiful people as more intelligent, competent and sociable than less attractive people. But attractiveness is not the only factor related to appearance that has biasing effects. Another pervasive bias concerns a person’s facial maturity: the baby-face bias.

Who do you think is more kind?

And who do you think is more honest?

Although they are about the same age and the same sex as Ben Affleck and Victoria Beckham, you probably think of Leonardo Dicaprio and Emma Bunton as more kind or honest. Why? Because they have facial features resembling those of a baby: a round head, large forehead, large eyes, short nose and small chin; features that seem to evoke an innate response of compassion and caring.

Additional to kind and honest, research in the United States and Korea has demonstrated that baby-faced adults are also perceived as more naive, helpless and warm than mature-faced adults of the same age and sex.

A baby face can also be helpful in court. A study showed that baby-faced defendants were much more frequently found innocent in cases involving intentional wrongdoing than were mature-faced defendants. Apparently, judges found it harder to believe that baby-faced persons deliberately caused harm to others.

Keep in mind that a baby face is only something on the outside and doens’t predict behavior. It’s the same with animals, also a cute and innocent looking panda can be a bad boy:


McArthur, LZ, & Berry, DS (1987). Cross-cultural agreement in perception of babyfaced adults. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 18, 165-192.

Zebrowitz, L., & McDonald, S. (1991). The impact of litigants’ baby-facedness and attractiveness on adjudications in small claims courts. Law and Human Behavior, 15 (6), 603-623 DOI: 10.1007/BF01065855

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