In Dad's Image

Wednesday, May 01, 1996
Can you tell which of these three men is the father of the one- year-old boy shown here? Nicholas Christenfeld and his doctoral student Emily Hill, psychologists at the University of California at San Diego, say that you should be able to. They have found evidence that children at the age of one resemble their fathers more than they do their mothers--but that as children age, the likeness fades. The researchers showed pictures of children at ages 1, 10, and 20 to student volunteers and asked them to pick the real parents of each child from sets of three possibilities. The success rate with which the students matched children with their mothers was roughly one in three--a rate no better than guessing. It was the same when they tried matching 10- or 20-year-olds with their fathers. But the students successfully linked one-year-olds to their fathers half the time, more than chance alone would predict. Christenfeld thinks this transient dad-likeness might have evolved to help insure that fathers will care for and protect their young. If the mother had the baby, she can be sure it is hers, while the father has some uncertainty, says Christenfeld. There’s good evidence that fathers are much more likely to invest energy in a child that is theirs. The father, by the way, is the middle one.
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