Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 143–158 | Cite as

Baby talk to the babyfaced

  • Leslie A. Zebrowitz
  • Sheila Brownlow
  • Karen Olson


The power of an infantile appearance to elicit baby talk was investigated by assessing the use of baby talk in task instructions to four-year-old children, who were portrayed as either relatively babyfaced or maturefaced. Men and women taught two tasks to a randomly selected boy or girl via a telephone conversation after being shown a photograph, which presumably depicted the child whom they were instructing. Paralleling facial differences between babies and adults, babyfaced children had rounder faces, larger eyes, thinner eyebrows, and smaller noses than the maturefaced. As predicted, adults used more baby talk when instructing babyfaced than maturefaced children. This effect was manifested in linguistic indicators of baby talk (slow timing and high clarification, simplification, and attention maintenance), as well as in paralinguistic indicators of baby talk (high pitch and changing intonation). The receipt of linguistic baby talk, in turn, facilitated the child's ability to choose a card which matched the one being described. The fact that facial babyishness influenced baby talk even when baby- and maturefaced children were equated in age, attractiveness, and perceived competence suggests that a small approximation to the craniofacial qualities that distinguish infants from adults may in and of itself be sufficient to elicit this speech register.


Social Psychology Slow Timing Task Instruction High Pitch Telephone Conversation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie A. Zebrowitz
    • 1
  • Sheila Brownlow
    • 1
  • Karen Olson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBrandeis UniversityWaltham

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