AC Hahn, LM DeBruine, C Fisher & BC Jones (2015). The reward value of infant facial cuteness tracks within-subject changes in women’s salivary testosterone. Hormones and Behavior, 67: 54-59. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2014.11.010

“Baby schema” refers to infant characteristics, such as facial cues, that positively influence cuteness perceptions and trigger caregiving and protective behaviors in adults. Current models of hormonal regulation of parenting behaviors address how hormones may modulate protective behaviors and nurturance, but not how hormones may modulate responses to infant cuteness. To explore this issue, we investigated possible relationships between the reward value of infant facial cuteness and within-woman changes in testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone levels. Multilevel modeling of these data showed that infant cuteness was more rewarding when women’s salivary testosterone levels were high. Moreover, this within-woman effect of testosterone was independent of the possible effects of estradiol and progesterone and was not simply a consequence of changes in women’s cuteness perceptions. These results suggest that testosterone may modulate differential responses to infant facial cuteness, potentially revealing a new route through which testosterone shapes selective allocation of parental resources.

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