Eons ago, babyfaces may have been an honest signal of youth – but since those with these features have a reproductive advantage, they’ve become exaggerated over time. They may also be a signal of good hormonal regulation, since holding on to some babyish features, such as small chins, is linked to oestrogen.
But what about in men? Surely the “cute” look is at odds with the chiselled jawline and dominant, masculine features of male models? As it turns out, it’s a little more complicated than that. Back in 1998, Perrett decided to investigate. He made an ‘average’ female and an ‘average’ male face by blending several together, and asked volunteers to diminish or enhance their femininity (babyishness) or masculinity until they looked the most attractive.
“To our surprise, people did not like faces enhanced in masculinity. They remarked how cold the faces looked. Feminising either male or female faces made them look warm, kind and like a better parent,” he says. Perrett suggests that women may be attracted to men who look like they will be a cooperative partner who will help with the kids.
The other explanation is more straightforward; hi-jacking the normal response to babies has so many social advantages, deep in our evolutionary past those with babyfaces may have been more likely to survive. In times of scarcity, baby-faced individuals may have been better at begging food from friends, for example.
In reality the evolution of the babyface is likely to have been driven by a mixture of both, though the sexual selection idea is more mainstream.
So there you have it. Next time you find yourself staring affectionately into the eyes of a baby-faced friend, colleague or date – just remember, you may be the latest victim in a long-running systematic evolutionary fraud.
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