Origins of a stereotype: categorization of facial attractiveness by 6-month-old infants


Judith H. Langlois, The University of Texas at Austin, Psychology Department, 1 University Station, A8000, Austin, TX 78712, USA; e-mail:


Like adults, young infants prefer attractive to unattractive faces (e.g. Langlois, Roggman, Casey, Ritter, Rieser-Danner & Jenkins, 1987; Slater, von der Schulenburg, Brown, Badenoch, Butterworth, Parsons & Samuels, 1998). Older children and adults stereotype based on facial attractiveness (Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani & Longo, 1991; Langlois, Kalakanis, Rubenstein, Larson, Hallam & Smooth, 2000). How do preferences for attractive faces develop into stereotypes? Several theories of stereotyping posit that categorization of groups is necessary before positive and negative traits can become linked to the groups (e.g. Tajfel, Billig, Bundy & Flament, 1971; Zebrowitz-McArthur, 1982). We investigated whether or not 6-month-old infants can categorize faces as attractive or unattractive. In Experiment 1, we familiarized infants to unattractive female faces; in Experiment 2, we familiarized infants to attractive female faces and tested both groups of infants on novel faces from the familiar or novel attractiveness category. Results showed that 6-month-olds categorized attractive and unattractive female faces into two different groups of faces. Experiments 3 and 4 confirmed that infants could discriminate among the faces used in Experiments 1 and 2, and therefore categorized the faces based on their similarities in attractiveness rather than because they could not differentiate among the faces. These findings suggest that categorization of facial attractiveness may underlie the development of the ‘beauty is good’ stereotype.