Family Matters

When Do Babies Stop Being So Darned Cute? Age 4 1/2, Scientists Say

The stage between preschool and kindergarten marks the point at which little kids are no longer considered unbearably adorable. Or at least that's what the research shows

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Jim Esposito Photography L.L.C. / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Recently my husband chastised me for pandering to Orli, my 4½-year-old. Half-jokingly, he insinuated that she’s my favorite, which I’ve already documented is simply not true.

While I don’t prefer one of my kids over the other, it would be hard to argue that Orli’s not the cutest. Objectively speaking, of course, they should all win beauty contests, but Orli’s got youth on her side. Her face is still round, her body still squeezable, her baby teeth intact and her syntax to die for. She’s little, and therefore she’s cute. The association transfers to nonhumans as well: puppies elicit more oohs than grown mutts, miniature cupcakes charm more than the larger versions, babies — of any ilk — have more eye appeal.

Perhaps that’s why I found a recent blog post on Psychology Today so intriguing. It examined this exact phenomenon via research that pinpoints at what age babies stop being irresistibly adorable.

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Psychologists in China and at the University of Toronto asked adults to gauge the attractiveness of children’s faces from infancy to age 6; the study participants found younger kids’ faces more likable than those of older children — and way more gorgeous than adults’. The magic tipping point? Age 4½. That’s the age at which “certain crucial infantile facial cues” — the researchers are talking about babies’ big eyes and big heads in relation to their smallish noses and mouths — are no longer very noticeable, according to the study, which was published in the fall in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Writes Jena Pincott, author of Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?:

These cues make us feel soft and protective, whether or not we’re biologically relatives — which, in evolutionary terms, increases the likelihood of a baby’s survival. (Indeed, studies have found that infants that have tiny eyes, flat foreheads, and square faces, for instance, are less likely to receive attention.)

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I’ve written before about my trepidation about becoming a mom of older children. There is something incredibly rewarding about sharing interests and conversations with older kids, about building a relationship based on duality, about watching them learn to play the violin and sew and be named “most improved player” on the basketball team. Yet how I love a cuddly infant.

But my days of BabyBjörns and Bumbos are firmly behind me. My oldest is 9, and I don’t know how more than 3,300 days have passed so quickly. What I do know is that nine is half of 18, meaning my son is already halfway out the door.

And so, with the few remaining months of preschool left to me, I have tried to slow time down, to revel in the joyously nonsensical nature of my youngest, her proclivity for potty talk, how she irrationally bursts into tears when I insist that she first finish her black beans and cheese before getting a second helping, the way she saucily calls me “dude” then creeps into my bed almost every night to hold hands and edge me off my pillow.

She may be 4½ — 4¾, to be precise — but this mom is still scientifically smitten.

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