Pretty Baby - Do Attractive Babies Get Better Care?

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Do pretty babies get better care?. Photo:

When researchers sat down 13 men and 14 women and showed them pictures of babies -- some normal, others with facial deformities -- they gave the test participants a choice: They could push one button and keep the image -- which would display for four seconds -- on the screen, or they could push another button to make the image go away sooner.

What they found was interesting. Men were more likely to linger over attractive babies, choosing the button that held the image on the screen. Women, on the other hand, hurried abnormal babies off the screen, making a greater effort -- say researchers -- to avoid those faces.

Study authors think they know what this study means, and it isn't good news for unattractive babies. "Our study shows how beauty can affect parental attitudes," study senior author Dr. Igor Elman says in a news release, "It shows women are more invested in raising healthy babies and that they are more prone to reject unattractive kids."

As usual, it's the mother's fault.

So does this study really hold water? The moms I talked to didn't think so. Mom of three Ilona Peltz tells this story:

"My oldest is 23. She was the most beautiful baby ever. I swear. So when the nurses tried to get me to buy the picture they'd taken to use for our birth announcements, I refused. It was such an awful picture! I said to my husband, 'Ugh! They've made her look like a slug with eyeballs!' Only years later did the possibility occur to me that just maybe -- a few hours after birth -- she really did look like a slug with eyeballs."

Peltz's point is that while not all babies are beautiful, moms don't really care. My friend Laura agrees: "I'm of no use," she said when I asked her about this study. "I have no opinion because my two are the most beautiful children on the planet."

Researchers were not trying to measure's a mother's ability to love her own child of course, a point that Bev Sklar, a mom of two who blogs at That's Fit makes. "Okay, so women didn't look as long at the ugly infant pictures. But it's ludicrous to then question a mother's love for her less-than-attractive infant."

I think she has a point. The study authors translated the mothers' desire not to look at pictures of abnormal babies as a lack of emotion or caring for that baby. I see just the opposite. Mothers tend to be more sensitive towards the needs of children, so I suspect they looked away because the suffering made them uncomfortable. Sort of like how some moms refuse to read horrific news stories about children -- it's just too hard to deal with.

Still, researchers aren't ready to let moms, dads or other caregivers off the hook. A 2005 study found that parents were more attentive to attractive offspring, and this recent study seems to support that.

What do you think? Do you think appearance has anything to do with the way a parent loves or cares for a child? Or do these researchers need to go back to the drawing board?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.