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Children Are Better Judges of Character Than We Knew

Boy taking candy from stranger
Photograph by Getty Images/BananaStock RF

Don't judge a book by its cover ... but we always do anyway. We do the same thing with people, too. Whether we like it or not, we make snap judgments about character based on a person's face, how they dress and more. But how early in life does this judgment and understanding of facial cues come into play? According to a new study, a lot earlier than we might think.

Researchers at Harvard University asked nearly 100 adults and more than 140 children, ages 3 to 10, "to evaluate pairs of computer-generated faces that differed on one of three traits––trustworthiness, dominance and competence." Two faces would appear on the screen, and the researcher would ask, for instance, "Does this person look nice?"

Surprisingly, the adults and the children agreed on the characteristics that were associated with each face.

Children ages 3 to 4 were only slightly less consistent in their assessments than were 7-year-olds. But the older children's judgments were in as much agreement as adults'—indicating a possible developmental trend.

Researchers saw the highest agreement between the adults and children on the question about whether or not the person looked trustworthy. And while the study's authors can't be sure whether a person's gut instinct about other humans is developed or how early it begins manifesting (is it earlier than 3 years old?), one thing is clear: Kids know more than we give them credit for when it comes to who we trust.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't still tell them not to take candy from strangers or talk to people they don't know!

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