Archive for Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Women look away more from abnormal babies

June 24, 2009


— Puzzling new research suggests women have a harder time than men looking at babies with facial birth defects.

It’s a surprise finding. Psychiatrists from the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, who were studying perceptions of beauty, had expected women to spend more time than men cooing over pictures of extra-cute babies. Nope.

Instead, the small study being published Wednesday raises more questions than it can answer.

First the background: The McLean team already had studied men and women looking at photos of adults’ faces on a computer screen. They rated facial beauty, and could do various keystrokes to watch the photos longer. A keystroke count showed men put three times more effort into watching beautiful women as women put into watching handsome men.

Lead researcher Dr. Igor Elman wondered what else might motivate women. Enter the new baby study.

This time 13 men and 14 women were shown 80 photos of babies, 30 of whom had abnormal facial features such as a cleft palate, Down syndrome or crossed eyes. Participants rated each baby’s attractiveness on a scale of zero to 100, and used keystrokes to make the photo stay on the screen longer or disappear faster.

Women pressed the keys 2.5 times more than men to make photos of babies with the facial abnormalities disappear, researchers reported in PLoS One, a journal of the Public Library of Science. That’s even though they rated those babies no less attractive than the men had.

“They had this subliminal motivation to get rid of the faces,” said Elman, who questions whether “we’re designed by nature to invest all the resources into healthy-looking kids.”

Both genders spent equal time and effort looking at photos of the normal babies.

The study couldn’t explain the gender disparity. Elman noted that previous work has linked child abandonment and neglect to abnormal appearance, and even asked if the finding might challenge the concept of unconditional maternal love.

That’s too far-reaching a conclusion, cautioned Dr. Steven Grant of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study.

The work is part of broader research into how we normally form attachments and what can make those attachments go awry, work that tests if what people say matches what they do.

“Common sense would tell you one thing,” Grant said. “This doesn’t fit with common sense. It raises a question.”


Alia Ahmed 8 years, 8 months ago

Yes, Tom, we feminists really encourage other women to devote their money and time to shallow endeavors while those of you who are more conservative values don't value fluff and looks. Right.....I see you've been reading the conserapedia's decription of feminism. Your response simply demonstrates your mindset of blaming progressive thinking and/or Obama for any and all problems. Life must be much simpler for you, I admit, when there is only one explanation for any problem or issue. .

BigPrune 8 years, 8 months ago

That link pretty much sums it all up there.....

Alia Ahmed 8 years, 8 months ago

The irony of Tom's attack on feminism is that early feminists paved the road for Tom's wife to work outside the home and evidently earn a good wage (as Tom himself has said on several occasions) so Tom can sit home on the computer and attack feminism. It is similar to those of you who attack labor unions while benefitting from safety regulations, 40 hour work weeks, and worker's compensation fought for and obtained by the actions of the very labor unions you attack.

BigPrune 8 years, 8 months ago

Uhh, Logan, if women didn't enter the workforce, women would still be able to stay home and live off of the husband's income.

dandelion 8 years, 8 months ago

Mr_Nancy_Boy_To_You (Tom Shewmon) says… Women are getting plastic surgery, breast enhancement, botox etc more than ever. Feminists have really done a number on the female population. It's chic in 2009 to be selfish, shallow and vain. The nicest purse, $150 doo, most expensive jeans, a round of cosmopolitans they can't afford and hey, good to go.

But I thought the feminists were the ones who who were ugly and didn't shave their arm pits? You really need to be more consistent in your insults.

kugrad 8 years, 8 months ago

Logan72, That link scared me! If it was satire, it was brilliant, but a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach tells me that website is not satirical.

dandelion 8 years, 8 months ago

Tom, 40 years ago your wife would probably have not been able to get her job, no matter how talented she is. I am not going to ridicule you for your role in the household, because it sounds like you hold up your end of the deal, but without the feminist movement, you would not be able to choose. It liberated more than just women.

Back to the article. My girlfriend says women most likely looked away more, because they were saddened for the baby. I'm more likely to look longer at someone who has a physical defect than she is. She considers it rude to stare, and says it hurts their feelings.

Music_Girl 8 years, 8 months ago

With a society so entrenched in beauty, this result doesn't surprise me very much. With the devaluing of human life in our society, this result doesn't surprise me very much.

Alia Ahmed 8 years, 8 months ago

Tom says....In closing, feminism did zilch to get my wife where she is. Her company has always been keenly aware of her worth, and their worst fear would she leave them and go to a competitor. It's not about money with us, it's about a partnership and looking at the long term. I guess, other than how we are with family and the raising of our two great boys, we're more about realism, not idealism.

Tom, you are in such denial. How many women worked outside the home before feminism made it socially acceptable to do? Your wife's company would not have known how valuable she is to them without first being given the opportunity to prove herself. Feminism paved the way for her opportunity to get her foot in the door. As a feminist, I say good for you and your wife that you have the freedom and resources to choose who works outside the homeand who works at home.

dandelion, good point. Tom contradicts himself frequently. Remember when he was saying feminists didn't like Sarah Palin because she was so pretty. If we were all about looks, then she and Carrie Prejean would be our heroes, fake boobs and all. I prefer my heroes to be both men and women who value intellect, opportunity and equality for all, not selfish, shallow and vain individuals. I can't think of a more shallow way to gain recognition than a beauty pageant, but those women seem to be role models for the conservative movement from Anita Bryant to Carrie Prejean. It is idealistic to think men and women, caucasians and people of color, straight and gay, Muslims, atheists, Christians, Hindus and Jews should all be valued and respected. It is also a good thing to strive for.

Alia Ahmed 8 years, 8 months ago

kugrad, unfortunately I don't think that link is satire but written in all seriousness and it is frightening. But, Big Prune, thinks it is spot on so i guess it has to be accurate.

Alia Ahmed 8 years, 8 months ago


I agree with your girlfriend that woman may look away more quickly because they don't want to be perceived as staring or judging, though that isn't really the case with looking at an image on a computer screen. My daughter teaches special education and she has noticed that when she takes her students on outings, people sometimes act as though the students are invisible. Although I understand the natural tendency to look away, I think part of it may be related to lack of exposure. For so many years, people with disabilities were hidden away at home or in institutions. Since my grandchildren have been exposed to and befriended children with disabilities, they have a comfort level that many of us don't have. I think it must be insulting and sad for parents when their children are not acknowledged because of the way the look. We aren't always aware of our own behavior and the impact it has on other people. I personally will try to overcome this tendency on my part.

canyon_wren 8 years, 8 months ago

I think dandelion explained it well. I do think women feel sadder about children with abnormalities (I realize there are significant exceptions and that's way too general a comment) and feel helpless to do something about it, so perhaps can't bear to look at the picture as long as men can. I don't think it's a question of only wanting to look at the attractive children.

salad 8 years, 8 months ago

Mr_Nancy_Boy_To_You (Tom Shewmon) says…

"Tom Shewmon is getting plastic surgery, breast enhancement, botox etc more than ever. It's chic in 2009 to be selfish, shallow and vain. The nicest purse, $150 doo, most expensive jeans, a round of cosmopolitans I can't afford and hey, I'm good to go."


Sorry everyone, I couldn't help feeding the troll today.

Ronda Miller 8 years, 8 months ago

I just bought purse at a purse party last night...feminist that I am...I used to just stick a wallet in my hip pocket and call it good...

I think this survey is fascinating. I would "guess" that women look away because they are more sensitive in respect to something being perceived "wrong" with the baby...and they can't fix it, or hold it because it is simply in a picture....I know a lot of intensely nice and sensitive people who turn away from upsetting news shows as well. Perhaps a form of self protection about feeling hurt and powerless.....

feeble 8 years, 8 months ago

Had to dig around for a while to find it, but for those interested, the paper is here:

Now, It's been several years since I walked down the hill, but I'm concerned about a couple of things in this study.

I think the sample size is too low and masks effects due to age and martial status. I also don't think the conclusions support the evidence. To understand this, you first need to read the actual research article and realize that the title of the newspaper article is completely inaccurate.

"Healthy men and women were administered two laboratory-based tasks: a) key pressing to change the viewing time of normal-looking babies and of those with abnormal facial features"

So, once the viewers were done viewing a given baby, they pressed a key to move on to the next baby. There was no "turning away". Participants were asked to view a face until they felt they could appraise it on a 0-100 scale. I only took a handful of Social Psych classes as an undergrad, but if I call correctly, there are many studies that find that there is a significant gender difference this these kinds of tasks, and that women are much "better" at processing visual stimuli related to faces or constellations of faces, than men.

"Parallel to the key press results, women showed significantly shorter viewing times of abnormal babies as compared to men [3.6±0.5 sec vs. 4.0±0.5 sec, t(58) = 2.77, p = 0.007]; viewing times of normal babies were not significantly different between the groups [5.5±0.6 sec vs. 5.4±0.6 sec, t(98) = 0.17, p = 0.87]."

The only thing I can infer from these results is that women visually process baby faces faster than men. It is very telling that the authors do not include highlight their finding that men scored the abnormal baby faces lower (less attractive) than women.

There are many other flaws with this paper.

denak 8 years, 8 months ago

I think there are several things going on here. Women have never had an "unconditional maternal love" for their children. That isn't to say that women don't love their children. Most do and most would pick their chidren over their spouse but I don't believe that it is an innate quality.Some of it is evolutionay but mostly I think it is sociological. Women show more maternal instict simply because that is how we are conditioned from a very young age. We are the ones that are taught that beauty is equal to worth. And that our value as human beings are tide up with being a parent. And more importantly to a beautiful child. That is why I think more women turn away from these children. An "ugly" baby or an abnormal baby is a repudiation of our worth as a woman in the eyes of society and even to some extent in our own family.


Left_handed 8 years, 8 months ago

salad (Anonymous) says…

“salad is getting plastic surgery, breast enhancement, botox etc more than ever. It's chic in 2009 to be selfish, shallow and vain. The nicest purse, $150 doo, most expensive jeans, a round of cosmopolitans I can't afford and hey, I'm good to go.”


Sorry everyone, I couldn't help feeding the troll today.

denak 8 years, 8 months ago

".....Did feminism give us the “Girls Gone Wild” phenomenon? I know divorce has gone through the roof since circa 1970. What caused that?..."

No, feminism didn't give us the "Girls Gone Wild" phenomenon, Men and their porn habits gave us that.

As for divorce, feminism didn't give us that either. Jobs and more importantly economic freedom gave us that. Women in the U.S. are now buying property for themselves at a higher rate than at any other time in HUMAN history. They are also graduating college at higher rates than men. That is why there is divorce. Unlike women in past generations, women now have the economic means to leave an unpleasant or abusive marriage unlike in the past.


d_prowess 8 years, 8 months ago

"My wife is hardly a feminist"

Feminism: 1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes 2 : organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interest.

So why would any woman not want to be a feminism? It seems like it should be something they want to be!

jonas_opines 8 years, 8 months ago

"I don't believe I'm contradicting myself."

Well there's your problem right there.

jonas_opines 8 years, 8 months ago

On a sidenote, I wonder if part of the problem is the choice of headlines that follow these subjects. A single case study or dissertation gets an article written about it with an absolutist headline like Women Look Away More or Global Warming Will Kill Us All, and it's all downhill from there.

rivercitymom 8 years, 8 months ago

denak, THANKS for taking on the boyz today. Keep fighting the good fight!

jaywalker 8 years, 8 months ago

"No, feminism didn't give us the “Girls Gone Wild” phenomenon, Men and their porn habits gave us that."

Hope you don't really believe that, denak, as you seem like a strong, independent woman. If the above were true it would just serve to place women in a subservient position all over again, merely toys for men to wind up and direct at their whim.

salad 8 years, 8 months ago

Mr_Nancy_Boy_To_You (Tom Shewmon) says…

"Hilarious! Thanks for the laugh!"

You, sir, are rich rich comedy material. Have you considered running for office? I understand there's a vacancy in South Carolina Govenorship.

jaywalker 8 years, 8 months ago


When I read your above post I thought you were projecting, but then I just saw on CNN that Sanford has now admitted to an affair. What a twisted few days for that clown. He's hiking the Appalachian Trail; no, no, he was in Argentina; Aha! It was an affair. Wow.

dandelion 8 years, 8 months ago

Well, I asked my girlfriends opinion about the girls gone wild, and she said "no self respecting feminist would ever do that. Many young girls don't identify with feminism. They fall into the whole media stupidity that says they have to have a man and to get a man they have to act like a slut". And I don't consider her much of a prude, so calling someone a slut is pretty extreme for her. She really doesn't have much respect for these girls.

denak 8 years, 8 months ago


Tom's implication was that feminism is the cause of "Girls Gone Wild," the implication being that women are now crass, ill-behaved, alchoholics that routinely take off their clothes because of feminism.

I just pointed out that men, who are visual creatures, are the number one proveyors of porn. It is their money that finances and fuels the Girl Gone Wild craze. I'm not knocking men, just pointing out that porn is a profit-driven enterprise and men are the number one buyers of that product.

As for the women/girls involved. It isn't making a woman subserviant by pointing out that porn isn't the best career choice for women and no, I do not believe that it is liberating for women ...or men for that be in that industry. It is explotative of its day workers as well as being shown to be psychologically and physically unhealthy for those who are "lucky" enough to be under contract.

Lastly, the producer/creator(?) of Girls Gone Wild has been brought up on charges two or three times and fined for filming underage girls, so I don't really think he is interested in advancing femininsm or sexual liberation. He is only interested in increasing his bank account and he is taking an age old approach to it by pedeling flesh.


jaywalker 8 years, 8 months ago

Good points, dena, I didn't look at that line as a response to what Tom's contention was.

No doubt men drive the porn bus, but as logicsound pointed out above, the women who take that step to participate in such acts are empowered to a point.
I wasn't trying to say that 'Girls' was an example of feminism's progress, just that when you state that "men and their porn habits" are responsible for such products you've ostensibly taken all responsibility and empowerment out of those women's hands. In the case of the guy who created "Girls Gone Wild", he could just as easily be some clown holding a camera if the women didn't feel brave enough to lift their shirt, instead of a freakin' billionaire.

notjustastudent 8 years, 8 months ago


You are spot on! I have had an Anthropology teacher, a Psych teacher, and a Journalism teacher emphasize the need to be skeptical when reading research like this. Always go to the source. That being said, I still agree with the statement that it raises a question- if not a dozen!

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