It’s hard to differentiate a baby’s sex just by their faces when they are first born. What with the tiny wisps of hair, chubby cheeks, and stubby fingers they all look eerily alike, to begin with. And apparently, this is the case not only for regular adults and young adults but this is also the case with nurses and pediatricians. In a study that was published in the United States National Library of Medicine, they found that nurses, adults, and pediatricians had similar results when it came to identifying sex via facial recognition in newborns. See if you can pick out the baby girl out of a group of four boys.
In the study which was conducted from Nashville, Tennessee, the researchers found that regardless of occupation most adults were unable to identify these ‘sex-specific characteristics.’ The study noted: ‘the low level of success (60%) found by the study suggests either that sex-specific characteristics are inconsistent or that adults do not notice them.’
The study used 30 babies that were born at Guy’s Hospital and ensured that there was an equal number of boys and girls. Researchers then wrapped the babies up leaving only their faces exposed and snapped photographs of them. These photos were then shown to 53 adults who were asked to fill out a questionnaire. Of the 53 participants, 21 were men, 12 were pediatricians, 14 were pediatric or neonatal nurses and the rest were not health workers. Of the 53 people, forty of those individuals were parents.
Through the study, researchers determined that there was no significant advantage to identifying sex –specific characteristics regardless of the participant’s education. In total, only about 55 percent of the babies’ genders were guessed correctly with nurses leading the way at 59 percent, nonhealth workers next at 55 percent followed by pediatricians, who were last, at 40 percent.
If you are looking to identify the baby girl out of a group of boys by looking for distinctly ‘female’ characteristics then you are more than likely not going to identify her. Researchers in the study found that participants were more likely to guess ‘boy’ than ‘girl’ since most of the adults guessed that 58 percent of the babies were boys. In fact, what is interesting to note is that most babies who were identified as girls were rated as ‘hairier’ than their male counterparts.
The study showed the following: ‘The proportion of babies whose sex was correctly identified by the observers, on the basis of facial characteristics, was higher than that expected by chance. Distinguishing features that are present in newborns’ faces allow adults to identify the babies’ sex, but these cues are subtle and easily missed or inconsistent.’ The study went on to stipulate that nurses did the best most probably because they have been exposed to newborns more often. It finished off with: ‘our sample size did not allow us to determine whether girls really are hairier than boys. It could be concluded that the major clue to a baby’s sex is its hairiness; perhaps experienced observers subconsciously take note of hairiness and so are better at identifying sex.’
So maybe identifying a baby girl by her face isn’t just about looking for her long locks or her almond-shaped eyes, it might have more to do with how often you are exposed to newborns and how accustomed you are with noticing minute facial differences. And, in case you were wondering which of the four babies in the first photograph is a girl, the answer can be found below (second from the left).
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