A new study suggested that many people consider newborn babies as ugly. The perception that a baby is cute and becomes appealing happens when the infant reaches six months old.
Attributes of cuteness such as big eyes, chubby cheeks, and making cooing noises that bring out the nurturing instinct in adults often happen when the baby reaches six months old, NZ Herald noted. Even among parents, if they are not instantly grabbed by their babies as much as they thought they might be, experts said the bonding will build and grow over time.
Most vulnerable stage
Tony Volk, a professor at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, said that even the researchers were surprised by the findings of the study because of their assumption that younger babies would be considered the cutest. It was borne out of the belief that adults would feel the greatest urge to care for infants in the initial stages of their lives at the time when they are most vulnerable.
But he pointed out that baby abandonment occurs most commonly during the first few weeks of the life of the infant. Volk cited the case of hunter-gatherers who already were nursing a child and could not nurse two children at once. For a peasant mother in medieval England who only had food enough for one child, if having two would mean both would likely die, the mother would consider it best to have only one child.
For thousands of years, humans had to make that difficult decision. By delaying attachment on account of the physical features of the baby, it makes the early losses easier to cope with, Volk explained.
For the study, the researchers showed 142 people images of 18 babies shot shortly after birth, at three months, and at six months old. Based on the cuteness, happiness, perceived health, and self-resemblance of the babies at those three stages, the respondents were asked how willing they would be to adopt those babies.
The results, published in the Evolution and Human Behavior journal, had the participants voting for the babies on a scale of one to nine based on the number of facial cues, CBC reported. For the research, Volk wanted to find out how adults perceive the facial expressions of a newborn by comparing the difference between the needs of the infant and the willingness of the adult to meet those needs based on the cuteness of the baby.
Because he was astonished by the result, Volk investigated two theories. The first theory stated that the faces of the babies are so cute that the babies can get more care. It placed the babies in the driver’s seat.
For the second theory, it said that if adults perceived it differently, it suggested that it is in the interest of the adult if they find the newborns as attractive as older infants. Volk said the study has real-life implications because how an adult perceives the facial cues of the infant can play a large role in abandoning the baby in the first few weeks of life.
Volk cited a 2003 study by Emerita Beryl Rawson, a historian on ancient Rome, who found that historical parents used to invest more time in infants that appeared stronger which implied they would neglect the baby if it appeared weak.
Although the results of Rawson’s study are considered shocking, Volk said it is not too far from the results of his own research because of the perception that six-month-olds are perceived as healthier.
He said that at that time, parents had to make a difficult decision at times if they can or cannot afford a newborn baby. If the mother was still nursing a previous baby, she cannot effectively nurse two babies at once.
Investment in the older kid
The mother will then have to invest in the older kid because from the point of view of the parents, that child has passed the danger zone. In contrast, newborn babies are at a greater risk of becoming sick. Volk pointed out that if a newborn catches just a small fever, it could be a hospital event already, but if it is the six-month-old baby that catches a fever, it is often nothing to be alarmed about.
The study came just after another study said that men, especially absentee fathers, will spend more time and nourishment to the baby if the infant resembles them physically. Volk explained that generally, older infants resemble their parents more because newborns are still developing.
He pointed out that newborns are redder from the pressure of giving birth. Sometimes, there is still a little bruising. However, he noted that women show a higher preference for other cues such as health and happiness due to the natural nurturing instincts of the female.
Volk said he plans next to look into the difference between younger and older parents and the nature of their nurturing, and first-time parents compared to parents with older kids.
[researchpaper 리서치페이퍼=Vittorio Hernandez 기자]