Babies Are More Social Than We Thought

babies social

Babies are social creatures from a very early age who understand complicated interactions between people, new research shows.

The study, published online in Psychological Science, observed 13-month-olds as they watched a puppet show in which there was a villain who was nice to one character but then hit another. They expected the meanie to be shunned by the puppet he was friendly to when that puppet saw him hitting the third character.

They were very upset by the violent turn the show took, according to the authors, and were enthralled by all the drama.

“Almost all babies look really concerned when they see the puppet violence,” co-author Yuyan Luo, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, told Live Science.

The babies did not seem surprised when puppet A ignored puppet B after B hit C, but they didn’t expect A to react when he didn’t witness the hitting.

“Babies think A should do something about it if they see B do something bad,” Luo told Live Science.

But their awareness of relationships starts even earlier, the researchers found. They can understand other babies’ perspectives, a skill called “theory of mind,” starting as young as 7-18 months old. Previously, it was thought that ability didn’t develop until children were toddlers of preschool age. By 8 months old, they like to see people who treat others badly punished and as early as 10 months of age, might even feel sympathy for those who are bullied.

The researchers observed how long the babies spent looking at the puppets in the different scenarios, since babies tend to stare longer at things they don’t expect. In this experiment, they spent longer looking at the puppets when A acted nice to B after witnessing the violence than when A avoided B. Likewise, they spent longer looking at the puppets when A avoided B after he didn’t see the hitting.

“Even though baby saw B hit C, baby expected A to play with B again,” the other co-author, You-jung Choi, told Live Science.

The next related study will examine how babies respond when someone does something nice instead of nasty.