Babies can tell who the boss really is when they're just 17 months old, according to new research. Crazy, right?

Baby Understands Boss
Credit: Roman Sorkin/Shutterstock

Who's the boss? Your little one has an amazing knack for recognizing who the real authority figure is. According to new research published in Cognition, babies can perceive who's the dominant figure in a situation when they're as young as 17 months old. This finding is surprising even to researchers, who say this is evidence that babies may be capable of processing more than we thought.

Here's how they came to this finding: Researchers showed 80 toddlers a series of videos featuring puppets interacting socially, then observed their reactions to said videos.

According to the researchers, the way toddlers responded to these videos was key. They based the study's ultimate finding on the fact that toddlers look longer at out-of-the-ordinary-situations—which is a trait they share with adults (researchers cited the examples of a magic trick or a car accident, which hold our attention because they're not expected). When toddlers watched videos in which non-dominant characters in the videos received rewards, they looked for about seven seconds longer than normal, which leads researchers to believe the toddlers perceive situations in which non-dominant characters win as strange or unexpected.

The ultimate implication of all this? Researchers believe children can correctly identify the dominant individuals in social situations. The study's authors plan to use this study as a jumping off point to observe how toddlers view competence by observing them as they watch videos featuring puppets doing certain tasks and receiving rewards—according to the researchers, this may help us understand how much babies know about socioeconomic status. Isn't it mind-blowing that little ones may be able to understand such an advanced topic?

"This tells us that babies are sorting through things at a higher level than we thought. They're attending to and taking into consideration fairly sophisticated concepts," said researcher Jessica Sommerville, according to a release for the news."If, early on, you see that someone who is more dominant gets more stuff, and as adults, we see that and say that's how the world is, it might be because these links are present early in development."