Evidence for a Kernel of Truth in Children’s Facial Impressions of Children’s Niceness, but not Shyness

Jemma R Collova* (Corresponding Author), Linda Jeffery, Gillian Rhodes, Ellen Bothe, Clare A. M. Sutherland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Adults teach children not to ‘judge a book by its cover’. However, adults make rapid judgments of character from a glance at a child’s face. These impressions can be modestly accurate, suggesting that adults may be sensitive to valid signals of character in children’s faces. However, it is not clear whether such sensitivity requires decades of social experience, in line with the development of other face-processing abilities (e.g. facial emotion recognition), or whether this sensitivity emerges relatively early, in childhood. An important theoretical question therefore, is whether or not children’s impressions are at all accurate. Here, we examined the accuracy in children’s impressions of niceness and shyness from children’s faces. Children (aged 7–12 years, ~90% Caucasian) and adults rated 84 unfamiliar children’s faces (aged 4-11 years, 48 female, ~80% Caucasian) for niceness (Study 1) or shyness (Study 2). To measure accuracy, we correlated facial impressions with parental responses to well-established questionnaires about the actual niceness/shyness of those children in the images. Overall, children and adults formed highly similar niceness (r = .94)
and shyness (r = .84) impressions. Children also showed mature impression accuracy: Children and adults formed modestly accurate niceness impressions, across different images of the same child’s face. Neither children nor adults showed evidence for accurate shyness impressions. Together, these results suggest that children’s impressions are relatively mature by middle childhood. Furthermore, these results demonstrate that any mechanisms driving accurate niceness impressions are in place by 7 years, and potentially before.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1822-1839
Number of pages18
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number11
Early online date1 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements: We are grateful to the parents and children who helped make this research possible. We would like to thank Romina Palermo for providing us the opportunity to contact her sample of participants and to use some existing data. We also thank Lou Ewing for sharing the Zeb the Alien Scientist testing materials, and Saba Siddique for comments regarding a manuscript draft. Finally, we would like to thank Kaitlyn Turbett, Dielle Horne, Saba Siddique, Chloe Giffard, and Maira Vicente Braga, for help testing participants. JC, LJ, GR, and CS conceived the study and helped to draft and edit the manuscript. JC programmed the experiment, collected most participant data, performed the statistical analyses and drafted the first manuscript draft. EB coordinated image collection and testing schedules.
All authors participated in the study design, and read, provided critical revisions and approved the final manuscript. The study methods, hypotheses and analyses were pre-registered(https://osf.io/kjtva/registrations).
Funding: This research was supported by an APR Internship Academic Mentor Grant to CS, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence Grant award to GR [CE110001021], ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award to CS [DE190101043], ARC Discovery Grant to GR and CS [DP170104602], ARC Discovery Grant to LJ [140101743], and a Research Training Program stipend to JC.

Data Availability Statement

Supplemental materials: https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0001240.supp


  • accuracy
  • facial impressions
  • children
  • development
  • face perception


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