Alarming News About Ugly Kids
It's hard to think parents could treat an ugly child like this, but they do. Researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada have shown that parents are more likely to give better care and pay closer attention to good-looking children compared to unattractive ones.
The study: Led by Dr. Andrew Harrell, executive director of the Population Research Lab at the University of Alberta, the researchers observed parents for 10 minutes with their children ages 2-1/2 to 5 in 14 different grocery stores. In total, there were 426 observations. They noted whether or not the child was buckled into the grocery cart and if he or she wandered more than 10 feet away from the parent. The researchers also independently graded each child on a scale of one to 10 on attractiveness.
The results: Findings showed that just 1.2 percent of the least attractive children were buckled in to grocery cart seats, compared with 13.3 percent of the most attractive youngsters. When moms were with the kids, 4 percent of the ugly ones were buckled in, but when dads took the kids shopping, none of the homely children was strapped into the cart.
The observers also noticed the less attractive children were allowed to wander further away and more often from their parents. Oddly, the good-looking boys were kept closer to their parents than were pretty girls. Why? The researchers think the girls may be thought of as more competent and more independent than boys of the same age.
Why are parents ignoring their unattractive children? In what is sure to be a controversial idea, Harrell blames it on a parent's instinctive Darwinian response. He insists we are more likely to unconsciously lavish attention on attractive children simply because they're our best genetic material. Of course, most parents would deny ever doing such a thing. "Attractiveness as a predictor of behavior, especially parenting behavior, has been around a long time," said Harrell in a news release announcing the findings. "Most parents will react to these results with shock and dismay. They'll say, 'I love all my kids, and I don't discriminate on the basis of attractiveness.' The whole point of our research is that people do."
Not everyone is embracing these study results as definitive. First, there is no other research to back up these controversial findings. Dr. Nick Barlow of the British Psychological Society told the BBC News that it's all in the eye of the beholder. "If you look at children with Down's syndrome or a cleft lip, parents are often over-protective, so there's no sign of rejection there," he explained to the BBC. "This is a dangerous report because people talk about designer babies. If we're not careful, scientists will be looking out genes for high cheekbones or blue eyes."