What's the earliest age that adult attractiveness can be predicted?

The presumption is that physical attractiveness remains stable over time. This has been proven in childhood onward: attractive ten-year-olds are likelier to be attractive adults. (Another study found that adult attractiveness can be predicted as early as age five). But until now no study had tracked attractiveness from infancy.

IIRC, one indicator of good looks is symmetry, especially facial symmetry. Faces are subtly asymmetric; the closer a face is to balanced and symmetrical, the better it looks - presumably that is an indicator of health and nutrition, that everything developed without being hampered by disease and malnutrition.

Of course, we are attracted to partners who look good because good looks is an indicator of health, or good genes - which is what mother nature wants us to look for.

This of course says nothing about appearances with symmetry but not “attractive” by modern standards.

I don’t think anyone would doubt that there’s a correlation between good looks in infancy and adulthood. But all we can ever do is talk probabilities wrt individuals.

Firstly because there are numerous genes which aren’t expressed until adolescence, and secondly because of environmental factors ( at the extreme, imagine we took a good looking child and malnourished them for the rest of their life)

Like Kate Moss?

It’s funny. I have read about symmetry being a big thing for attractiveness on this board many times, but it has never matched up very well with my personal experience. It seems to me that I can easily guess with 90-95% accuracy from a profile shot weather or not I will think a woman is attractive. Of course everyone is different.

A couple of thoughts on this topic:

  1. Sometimes I will size up a different families photographs and think to myself, that child will be the “pretty one” in ten years or so. I’ve always wondered how accurate my predictions will be.

  2. I have seen earlier photographs of people that I consider very attractive. Frequently, they were more attractive at 32 than 22, which not what I had expected. For some people it can take a while to figure by trial and error what kind of clothes/hair style/hair color best fits their face and figure.

  3. It is not hard to find “before they were stars” photos that show less attractive people. However, those particular photos may be been chosen as the ugliest example to increase shock value.

OK, probably you’re joking but anyway:
My point was that environmental factors such as malnutrition may affect how attractive someone is in adulthood.

I’m not saying this will be evident in every individual.
If Kate Moss’ beauty refutes the claim that malnutrition may make an adult less attractive, then her height would also refute the claim that malnutrition may affect height.
This is assuming of course she has been malnourished in any sense other than having a low calorie diet.

But, out of nature and nurture I think it’s pretty clear that nature (genetics) is the much more important factor in adult beauty.
And there may well be a point where we can recreate an adult face from DNA, with only slight uncertainty. But that’s not the same thing as the OP (predicting whether a child will be an attractive adult based on their current appearance).

All babies have that adorable little button nose. I’m trying to picture at what age the nose starts really having a shape, and then at what age someone ends up with big ugly honker…

I think the big schnoz may only really develop when you’re a teenager?

Speaking for myself, it was noted early on that I appeared to have fallen out of the ugly tree and managed to hit every branch on the way down. Things did not improve as I aged.
Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone.
I think ugly may be easier to predict.

I think it’s a combination of symmetry and proportion - a facial feature too large or small (large nose, beady eyes, small chin) impact appearance even when symmetrical. I do think these are a good indicator of what will be found attractive; the thing is, once it’s achieved you get a sort of pleasing blandness. A slideshow of people with proportionate, symmetrical features shows how they blend together - no distinguishing features.

I for one also disagree with the “symmetry=beauty” hypothesis. It may correlate, but it certainly isn’t absolute.

I also disagree that you can tell attractiveness from birth. Newborns almost all look like weird little grub worms to me. I find plenty of them cute (especially my own), but not in an attractive way, more like an “I want to make sure you’re well-fed and safe from harm” kind of way. However, about the time toddlers stop being toddlers, I think adult attractiveness can be inferred, barring some disfiguring future injury or malnutrition.

And the poster who said they found pictures of a pretty 32 year old at age 22 less attractive: Pictures lie. I take uniformly awful pictures, but plenty of women have told me I’m attractive, even unbiased women. And I’ve seen a similar phenomenon in other people. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find a woman who floored me in person take pictures that made me go “meh”.

Surely, attractiveness can be predicted before birth, or even conception. Attractive parents are more likely to have attractive kids.

I disagree with the quote in the OP for purely anecdotal reasons. It seems like a lot of male child actors who were attractive as kids turn out to be goofy when they get older. Macaulay Culkin is the poster child.

As is Haley Joel Osment.

Yes, anecdotally, my answer is, “when they’re adults”. There’s been no rhyme or reason to the kids I’ve seen grow up in my community.

It’s easier for a guy to look kinda weird if his face does weird things as he ages, as in the Haley Joel Osment example above. Guys are supposed to have short hair and can’t cover any part of their face up, so bone structure and proportion are a lot of what defines their attractiveness. On the other hand, girls can have long hair. They can also use artful bang-styling to cover for a weird forehead or too-wide face.

Haley Joel Osment is just unfortunate in that his face is essentially the same size and shape as it has been since he was 6 years old. But now it looks squished in the middle of an adult-sized head. Reference Exhibit 1. If he were a girl, he could have hair that came down and covered the sides of his face and would probably be very cute.

When she was two years old, my father in law said of my second daughter that she would be a beauty when she grew up. I couldn’t see it myself and thought my first daughter prettier.

It turned out that his prediction was deadly accurate. All three of my daughters are good looking but the second one is outstanding.

Also men’s faces change more during puberty. Genes that won’t be expressed until adolescence. Check out this list of secondary sexual characteristics, and how in males there are many changes which happen to the face. Women…not so much.

Granted how attractive a man’s face is is not entirely due to how masculine it is (indeed, in wealthy countries somewhat feminine faces may be preferred). But the point is there are many genes that are not expressed until that point, which could “make or break” a face.

It’s not easily predictable, because some people’s faces change a lot from childhood to adulthood, and some don’t. I’ve certainly seen cute/pretty children that turned into strange looking adults, there are a lot of child actors that are good examples. I’ve also known people that have looked just the same from 2 years old until their 50s-60s, which often times means they’re a knockout compared to other over-40s but might have been nothing special in their youth.

My youngest sister is the prettiest of us three, but was a slightly odd looking little girl. She hit puberty and all of a sudden her facial proportions evened out.

Presentation does count for a lot. Kids who know enough to have a sense of style and present themselves well at 10, will likely retain and refine those skills into adulthood.

I was so ugly when I was born that the doctor slapped my mother’s behind instead of mine.

I was under the impression that most people judge attractiveness by body shape, and that seems to be almost reverse correlated. At least, in my experience, if I see a child who has an attractive body, it’s because they have more fat and look more adult. As they get older, they will continue to be fatter than average and thus will look less conventionally attractive.

If we’re talking about faces, those seem to be almost random prior to puberty. The only pattern I’ve detected is that “cute” features rarely last until adulthood. The randomness arises in whether that cuteness will be replaced by other pleasing features.

I, like Chronos, have found that looking at the parents is a much better means of determining future attractiveness, even with kids that seem to look very little like their parents. I’ve not see a kid yet who didn’t grow up to look like one or both parents.