Mealtime with babies can be described in two words: complete chaos.
But now, new research out of Cornell University published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds children as young as 1 understand a lot more about mealtime than having their fingers in their applesauce would suggest. In fact, we may be raising mini-sociologists...who are also excellent at throwing Cheerios to impressive lengths across the kitchen.
Researchers looked at 200 1-year-olds and how they processed a series of videos of people showing like or dislike of certain foods. Interestingly, when babies saw two people speak the same language, or act as if they were friends, the cultured cuties expected them to care for the same cuisine. But when they witnessed two people speaking different languages, or acting unfriendly, the babies expected them to like different foods.
"Kids are sensitive to cultural groups early in life," explained the study's co-author, Katherine Kinzler, in a press release. "When babies see someone eat, they are not just learning about foodthey are also learning about who eats what with whom. An ability to think about people as being 'same versus different,' and perhaps even 'us versus them,' starts very early in life."
Researchers also noted babies expected that if one person acted disgusted by a food, other people would feel the same way, regardless of their relationship to the first person. This suggests "infants are particularly vigilant to social information that might signal danger."
So is that the reason none of my kids will eat beets? Because my hubby has definitely made it clear that in his opinion, this food should be banned from the face of the Earth.
Perhaps the most fascinating finding that emerged from this study is that babies from bilingual homes interpreted what they saw in the videos differently, and even expected people who spoke different languages to like the same foods. In other words, language didn't cue them the same way as babies from households where just one language was spoken.
What researchers want us to take away from this study is that babies are learning about eating habits both from what we feed them and how we eat. "If you feed your child the perfect diet, yet your child sees you and your friends and family eating junk food, she is presumably learning about foods from her social experiences, too," Kinzler commented.
Oh, and we parents should just realize that our babies are onto us, in more ways than we may have suspected.
What's your take?
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.