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Babies under the age of two are able to recognize the differences in power in people who win a confrontation. A study reveals that they know how to differentiate the bases of that power, the leaders of the abusers.
This is the main conclusion of a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), led by Renee Baillargeon of the University of Illinois (USA). To arrive at her conclusions, the researcher started from the premise of the so-called “violation of expectations”, which indicates that babies pay more attention and for longer to those events that contradict their expectations, which surprise them.
To do this, he developed a series of animations that represented characters from drawings interacting with an individual portrayed as a leader, as a bullied bully and as a sympathetic person without evident power, said the university said in a statement.
In the experiment, 21-month-old babies could see how a character characterized as a leader or abuser gave the command “Bedtime!” to three other characters, who initially obeyed. The character-leader or abuser-then left the scene and the protagonists continued to obey or disobey. The children, according to this work, detected “violation of expectation” when the protagonists disobeyed the leader, but not when they disobeyed the stalker; This result was repeated in a similar experiment but the differences in physical appearance between the leader and abuser were eliminated.
Babies expect obedience from the leader
According to the main researcher, this shows that, in general, babies expected the protagonists to obey the leader even when the leader was not present on stage. As for the abuser, the infants expected obedience only when the stalker remained on the scene – out of fear – and could hurt them again if they disobeyed.
In addition, a third experiment was conducted to verify if the children responded to the sympathy of the characters, rather than to their status as leaders or intimidators. According to Baillargeon, in this situation, babies expected the protagonists to disobey “most likely because the character had no power over them.”
The new findings, Baillargeon points out, confirm previous studies that show that babies can detect power differences between individuals: “babies understand that leaders have to obey them even when they are not around, abusers, however, you have to obey them only when they are present. “