Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
Babies are drawn to adults who distribute desired items fairly and equally–as long as they perceive that the “fairness” will benefit them. These are the findings of a new study that examined how babies choose playmates based on whether the playmates share toys equally, or unequally based on race. More from the University of Washington:
The findings, published in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology, show that 15-month-old babies value a person’s fairness – whether or not an experimenter equally distributes toys – unless babies see that the experimenter unevenly distributed toys in a way that benefits a person of the same race as the infant.
“It’s surprising to see these pro-social traits of valuing fairness so early on, but at the same time, we’re also seeing that babies have self-motivated concerns too,” Sommerville said.
Forty white 15-month-old babies sat on their parents’ laps while watching two white experimenters divide toys between recipients. One experimenter divided the toys equally, and the other experimenter divided the toys unequally….
Later, when the babies had a chance to choose who to play with, 70 percent of the time infants preferred the experimenter who distributed the toys fairly. This suggests that when individuals are the same race as the infant, babies favor fair over unfair individuals as playmates….
Next, Sommerville and her team asked a more complex question. What would happen when individuals who were of the same race as the infant actually stood to benefit from inequity?
In a second experiment, 80 white 15-month-old infants saw a fair and an unfair experimenter distribute toys to a white and to an Asian recipient. Half the babies saw the unfair experimenter give more to the Asian recipient; and the other half of babies saw the experimenter give more to the white recipient.
When it came time to decide a playmate, infants seemed more tolerant of unfairness when the white recipient benefited from it. They picked the fair experimenter less often when the unfair experimenter gave more toys to the white recipient versus the Asian recipient.
“If all babies care about is fairness, then they would always pick the fair distributor, but we’re also seeing that they’re interested in consequences for their own group members,” Sommerville said.
The findings imply that infants can take into account both race and social history (how a person treats someone else) when deciding which person would make a better playmate.
“Babies are sensitive to how people of the same ethnicity as the infant, versus a different ethnicity, are treated – they weren’t just interested in who was being fair or unfair,” said Monica Burns, co-author of the study and a former UW psychology undergraduate student. She’s now a psychology graduate student at Harvard University.
Image: Infants playing, via Shutterstock
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Friday, April 4th, 2014
Newborns and infants are sensitive to what German researchers term “pleasant touch,” and they display specific physiological and behavioral response to this style of touching. The findings are yet more confirmation of what parents have known for years, that physical contact is an important part of forging the parent-child bond. More from the journal Psychological Science:
Previous studies with adults have shown that when the skin is stroked, a specific type of touch receptor is activated in response to a particular stroking velocity, leading to the sensation of “pleasant” touch. Cognitive neuroscientist Merle Fairhurst of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues hypothesized that this type of response might emerge as early as infancy.
For the study, Fairhurst and colleagues had infants sit in their parents’ laps while the experimenter stroked the back of the infant’s arm with a paintbrush. The experimenter varied the rate of the brushstrokes among three defined velocities (0.3, 3, or 30 cm per second). The experimenters gauged the infants’ responses through physiological and behavioral measures.
The results showed that the infants’ heart rate slowed in response to the brushstrokes but only when the strokes were of medium velocity; in other words, the touch of the medium-velocity brush helped to decrease their physiological arousal.
The infants also showed more engagement with the paintbrush during the medium-velocity brushstrokes, as measured by how long and how often they looked at the brush while they were being stroked.
Interestingly, infants’ slower heart rate during medium-velocity brushstrokes was uniquely correlated with the primary caregivers’ own self-reported sensitivity to touch. That is, the more sensitive the caregiver was to touch, the more the infant’s heart rate slowed in response to medium-velocity touch.
The researchers note that this link between caregiver and infant could be supported by both “nurture” and “nature” explanations:
“One possibility is that infants’ sensitivity to pleasant touch stems from direct or vicarious experience of differing levels of social touch as a function of their caregiver’s sensitivity to social touch,” explains Fairhurst. “Another possibility is that social touch is genetically heritable and therefore correlated between caregivers and infants.”
According to the researchers, the findings “support the notion that pleasant touch plays a vital role in human social interactions by demonstrating that the sensitivity to pleasant touch emerges early in human development.”
Image: Mother hugging baby, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Babies as young as 9 months old may have a grasp of the social world that could be described as comprehension of the concept of “friendship,” a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General shows. More from LiveScience:
“Nine-month-old infants are paying attention to other people’s relationships,” said study co-author Amanda Woodward, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago. “Infants are able to watch two strangers interact in the movie and then make inferences about whether those two people are likely to be friends,” said Woodward, referring to a movie showed to the babies during the experiment….
The researchers had 64 nine-month-olds watch two videos of two actors eating a mystery food from two differently colored containers. Sometimes the actors smiled and said, “Ooh, I like it,” or made faces of disgust and said, “Eww, I don’t like that.” (The team chose to use food, because it plays a central role in many social gatherings with family and friends.)
The two actors either had similar food preferences or opposing ones.
Afterward, the tots watched a video of the two people meeting and either being friendly to one another or giving each other the cold shoulder.
Though infants can’t say what they’re thinking, they reveal their thoughts by what they pay attention to, Woodward told LiveScience. “When they see events that are inconsistent or unexpected, they tend to look at them longer,” she said.
The youngsters stared longer at videos of people with opposing views who were friendly to each other, suggesting the babies expected the two people who disagreed on food to be foes. Infants also stared longer at unfriendly people who still liked the same foods.
The findings suggest that even at a young age, babies expect people with similar likes and dislikes to be friends, and those who disagree to be unfriendly.
Babies may be wired to expect this behavior, Woodward said.
In their short lives, “babies probably didn’t learn this expectation from experience,” Woodward said. “It’s some expectation that they are in some way prepared to have.”
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Image: Two babies, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Here’s some reassuring news: A study finds that stuttering is common among three- and four-year-olds, but those who stutter are unlikely to suffer long-lasting social or emotional damage.
More from USA Today:
The fact that the children who stutter were not more withdrawn than their peers who don’t stutter was a “very positive finding,” says Sheena Reilly, the study’s lead author.
Stuttering, sometimes called stammering, often includes repetition of words or phrases as well as prolongation of sounds. Some people can outgrow the speech disorder, which often begins in early childhood. It can persist into adulthood for others.
The study included 1,619 4-year-old children in Melbourne, Australia. They were recruited at 8 months.
The study found that the children who stutter had higher verbal and non-verbal scores than their peers who don’t stutter. Tests looked at what the kids understand, what they say and how they solve a puzzle.
The proportion of kids in this group who began stuttering by age 4 was 11%, an amount higher than reported in previous studies. Recovery from stuttering within 12 months of onset was 6.3%, a rate lower than expected, according to the study.
Reilly, associate director of clinical and public health research at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Australia, says researchers will continue to follow this group of children to learn more about their recovery from stuttering.
Joseph Donaher, academic and research program director for the Center for Childhood Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says the finding about stuttering’s impact may help allay parents’ worries. “Reports like this help clinicians make the case that some stuttering, especially for a short period of time, doesn’t mean that your child is going to be negatively impacted in the future.”
Image: Preschool group, via Shutterstock
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