First impressions are formed as early as three
Even your three-year-old toddler is capable of judging an individual's character simply by looking at his/her face - meaning he does not require years of social experience to learn the art.
Just like adults, children as young as age three tend to judge traits like trustworthiness and competence simply by looking at the person's face, research shows.
"If adult-child agreement in face-to-trait inferences emerges gradually across development, one might infer that these inferences require prolonged social experience to reach an adult-like state," said psychological scientist Emily Cogsdill of Harvard University.
"Even young children's inferences are like those of adults. This indicates that face-to-trait character inferences are a fundamental social cognitive capacity that emerges early in life," she added.
To understand this, researchers evaluate pairs of computer-generated faces among 99 adults and 141 children (ages three to 10).
The faces differed on one of three traits: trustworthiness, dominance and competence.
After being shown a pair of faces, participants were asked to judge "which one of the people is very nice".
As expected, the adults showed consensus on the traits they attributed to specific faces. And so did the children.
Children ages 3-4 were only slightly less consistent in their assessments than were seven-year-olds.
But the older children's judgements were in as much agreement as adults', indicating a possible developmental trend.
Overall, children seemed to be most consistent in judging trustworthiness, compared to the other two traits.
"If such inferences take root early in development, even infants might associate faces with trait-consistent behaviours," the researchers noted.
The study appeared in the journal Psychological Science.
(Posted on 05-03-2014)