'Ugly' children get less attention

Key points

• Study finds parents discriminate between children based on 'attractiveness'

• Canadian study showed parents more likely to neglect 'unattractive' children

• Attractiveness described in terms of facial symmetry, cleanliness and attire

Key quote

"Most parents will react to this with shock and dismay. They’ll say ‘I love my kids and I don’t discriminate on the basis of attractiveness.’ The point of our research is that people do" - Dr Andrew Harrell, University of Alberta, Canada

Story in full GOOD-looking children get more attention from their parents than less attractive ones, new research has claimed.

The study by scientists from the University of Alberta in Canada watched parents shopping in supermarkets with children. It found that unattractive children were allowed to wander further and more often from parents than their more attractive siblings, and also revealed that unattractive children were less likely to be strapped into the trolley.

The research team, led by Dr Andrew Harrell, studied more than 400 families with children aged between two and five in 14 shops. Volunteers graded each child independently on a scale of one to ten for attractiveness.

Only 1.2 per cent of the least attractive children were buckled into trolleys compared with 13.3 per cent of the most attractive.

Dr Harrell, a father of five and grandfather of three, said: "Attractiveness as a predictor of behaviour, especially of parenting behaviour, has been around for a long time.

"Most parents will react to this with shock and dismay. They’ll say ‘I love my kids and I don’t discriminate on the basis of attractiveness.’ The point of our research is that people do.

"We can now make links between child abuse and attractiveness and social worth. We were not expecting the influence of attractiveness to be so strong. We know that children who are more attractive get more attention at school."

A spokesman for the research team explained their criteria for attractiveness: "The researchers were instructed to ignore bad haircuts and dirty clothes and look for symmetry of the face.

"It was an observational exercise to see if this is a phenomenon. We are trying to create an awareness in parents, even if they might not admit it.

"The parents had no idea they were being watched. Basically the numbers show that ugly kids are at greater risk and are more vulnerable."

Dr Harrell was led to the research through his work on shopping-trolley safety - a subject about which he has published 13 articles.

Dr Nadja Reissland, Professor of Child Development at Aberdeen University, said: "I would say that if you find something more attractive you are likely to favour it. Babies are just as prejudiced. Texan research from the 1990s has shown that one-year-old children will play with an attractive doll for longer than an unattractive one.

"It is difficult to say whether this is a Darwinian reaction or if it is something learned."

Dr Reissland said that babies and children who are considered pretty by cultural norms have indistinct features.

"In fact, what we call attractive is an average face.

"People who are more attractive may have it easier but it could be more difficult for them if they are constantly in demand.

"On the other hand, children who are ignored may fight harder for attention and therefore be more likely to succeed. In the end I am sure it comes out equally."

Famed models such Jodie Kidd and Erin O’Connor often complain of having been thought ugly at school. Dr Reissland concurs with the popular adage that ugly ducklings become beautiful adults.

"Supermodels have a face which is something special, with different features. As children they may be thought of as unattractive, but as they become older it becomes an advantage."

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