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The motivational salience of infant faces is similar for men and women

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Infant facial features are thought to be powerful elicitors of caregiving behaviour. It has been widely assumed that men and women respond in different ways to those features, such as a large forehead and eyes and round protruding cheeks, colloquially described as 'cute'. We investigated experimentally potential differences using measures of both conscious appraisal ('liking') and behavioural responsivity ('wanting') to real world infant and adult faces in 71 non-parents. Overall, women gave significantly higher 'liking' ratings for infant faces (but not adult faces) compared to men. However, this difference was not seen in the 'wanting' task, where we measured the willingness of men and women to key-press to increase or decrease viewing duration of an infant face. Further analysis of sensitivity to cuteness, categorising infants by degree of infantile features, revealed that both men and women showed a graded significant increase in both positive attractiveness ratings and viewing times to the 'cutest' infants. We suggest that infant faces may have similar motivational salience to men and women, despite gender idiosyncrasies in their conscious appraisal.
Original languageEnglish
JournalP L o S One
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

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