Five-year-old children show cooperative preferences for faces with white sclera

W. Wolf, J. Thielhelm, M. Tomasello

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The cooperative eye hypothesis posits that human eye morphology evolved to facilitate cooperation. Although it is known that young children prefer stimuli with eyes that contain white sclera, it is unknown whether white sclera influences children’s perception of a partner’s cooperativeness specifically. In the current studies, we used an online methodology to present 5-year-old children with moving three-dimensional face models in which facial morphology was manipulated. Children found “alien” faces with human eyes more cooperative than faces with dark sclera (Study 2) but not faces with enlarged irises (Study 1). For more human-like faces (Study 3), children found human eyes more cooperative than either enlarged irises or dark sclera and found faces with enlarged irises cuter (but not more cooperative) than eyes with dark sclera. Together, these results provide strong support for the cooperative eye hypothesis.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105532
Pages (from-to)1-17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Cooperative eye hypothesis
  • Cooperative preferences
  • Eye morphology
  • Face perception
  • Joint attention
  • Social cognition


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