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I’d like to describe a recent study published in the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment by Nicolas Guéguen in which he examined how women perceive men interacting with a baby, as compared to the same men largely ignoring a baby.

Guéguen set up a field experiment in which a male confederate met up "by accident" with a female confederate who was accompanied by her baby (three men, two women, and two babies, 15 and 19 months old, were used over the course of the study). The male and female confederates pretended to be siblings and interacted next to an actual female customer—who was unaware that she was part of an experiment—seated at a table in the pavement area of a bar.

In one of the two conditions, the male confederate interacted extensively with the baby; in the other, he simply greeted the infant once and did not otherwise interact with the child. After a two-minute interaction, the two “siblings” parted ways, at which point the male approached the female customer and said:

“Hello. My name’s Antoine. I noticed you when I arrived here. I just want to say that I think you’re really pretty. I have to go to work now but I wonder if you would give me your phone number. I’ll phone you later and we can have a drink together somewhere.”

Following an appropriate goodbye, the male confederate left the scene. Less than a minute later, a woman approached the female customer and informed her about the experiment without sharing its true purpose (the “baby effect”). The female participants were asked to evaluate the male confederate on five traits on a scale of 1 to 10, the highers implying more of the trait in question. The traits were: physical attractiveness; desirability for a long-term relationship; fatherly; kind; and loving.

Of the 52 customers randomly assigned to one of the two experimental conditions, 49 agreed to take part in the survey. Here are the results:

1. Likelihood of Agreeing to the Request (chi-square test: p < .05)

  • Baby Interaction condition: 40% Acceptance, 60% Rejection
  • No Baby Interaction condition: 12% Acceptance, 88% Rejection

By interacting with the infant—demonstrating cues of paternal investment—the males increased the rate of compliance more than three-fold.

2. Scores Along the Five Traits

On each of the five traits, the “paternal” men scored significantly higher than their “non-paternal” counterparts. Below I list the p-values and effect sizes for each of the five traits. Based on accepted statistical standards, all five results would be construed as large effect sizes.

  • Attractiveness (p < .005; d = 0.97)
  • Desirability for a long-term relationship (p < .001; d = 1.36)
  • Fatherly (p < .001; d = 3.65)
  • Kind (p < .001; d = 1.46)
  • Loving (p < .001, d = 1.44)

In other words: A man who exhibits infant care is viewed as physically more attractive, and a better prospect for a long-term relationship, in part because he is construed as more fatherly, kind, and loving. (Makes sense, as we are a biparental species.) Now we know why male politicians always seem to have a baby in their hands while on the campaign trail!

Some readers might remember that in an earlier article, I discussed another one of Guéguen’s papers, in which he reported that walking with a dog increased a man’s likelihood of obtaining a woman’s phone number. Men, you now have the perfect recipe: Walk with a dog while carrying a baby!

  • On the topic of babies, some readers might be interested in one of my earlier Psychology Today articles in which I discussed sex differences in parents’ abilities to recognize their infants’ cries.

  • Stay tuned for the final results of a project I am conducting with my former doctoral student (Dr. Eric Stenstrom) wherein we are examining how exposure to baby cues (photos of babies as well as cries and laughter of babies) affect a wide range of phenomena including risk-taking, conspicuous consumption, and charitable donations. I should point out that Eric successfully defended his dissertation on April 2, 2014. Congratulations, Doc!

  • On a personal note, I wanted to take a moment to mark the second-year anniversary of the passing of my eternally loved Belgian shepherd, Amar. On May 4, 2012, the unimaginable happened. Please see the Psychology Today tribute that I wrote to honor him exactly one month after his passing, "Life Lessons My Dog Taught Me."

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