VANCOUVER, March 13 – Infants as young as nine months embrace those who pick on individuals who are different from them, suggesting infant might have some early understanding of social alliances, a study has found.
“Our research shows that by nine months, babies are busy assessing their surroundings, trying to determine who is friend or foe. One important way they make these distinctions is based on perceived differences and similarities,” said Prof. Kiley Hamlin of University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychology.
Xinhua news agency reports in the study, researchers had babies aged 9-14 months choose between graham crackers and green beans. The infants then watched a puppet show in which one puppet demonstrated the same food preference as the infant, while another exhibited the opposite preference.
After seeing other puppets harmed, helped or acted neutrally toward puppets with different or similar food preferences, infants demonstrated a strong preference for puppets who harmed the “dissimilar” puppet and helped the “similar” one.
“These findings suggest that babies either feel something like schaudenfreude — pleasure when an individual they dislike or consider threatening experiences harm,” said Hamlin.
Hamlin describes the behaviour as an early form of the powerful, persistent social biases that exist in most adults, who favour individuals who share their origins, languages and appearances over people with whom they have fewer things in common.