File this under “Woah, scary”

by Stephen Tall on February 7, 2014

I remember reading this in The Economist a few months ago and thinking “Woah, scary”. It’s from an article on how “the shape of people’s faces, determined by their bone structure, contributes enormously to how beautiful they are” – and to their later life chances:

What men look for in the faces of women, and vice versa, is so well known that research might seem superfluous. … More intriguingly, the presence or absence of such features [flat faces, small noses, reduced jaws and a large ratio between the height of the cranium and the height of the face] skews parents’ attitudes to their offspring. At least 15 studies have shown that mothers treat attractive children more favourably than unattractive ones, even though they say they don’t and may actually believe that. At least one of these studies showed this bias is true from birth.

Some of the details are extraordinary. One researcher, who spent a decade observing how mothers look after young children in supermarkets, found that only 1% of children judged unattractive by independent assessors were safely secured in the seats of grocery carts. In the case of the most attractive the figure was 13%. Another researcher studied police photographs of children who had been abused and found such children had lower craniofacial ratios than those who had not been.