By Calvin J.
Turns out that “selling out” isn’t only something pop-stars do! Recent research from Yale University published in the journal, Cognition, finds that even babies become “sell outs” when the price is right!
Babies, as it turns out, aren’t as simple minded as we might think. Previous research has already shown that beginning in early infancy, human babies frequently display aversion towards so called “bad guys”, individuals that exhibit visual signs of anger and violence towards others. Instead, babies favour individuals that exude more nurturing characteristics, such as those who interact with others in friendly and helpful manners. The researchers Dr. Karen Wynn and Arber Tasimi were then interested in assessing infants between the ages of 5-8, to see if and when they might choose to “do business” with a so called “bad guy” even at the cost of personal gain.
As you might expect, when babies and children were offered increasingly larger rewards, in the form of crackers or stickers, they typically went with the larger prize. But the researchers quickly found that this wasn’t always the case. When the larger prize was provided by someone who displayed aggressive and violent characteristics, young children and even 12 – 13-month-old babies consistently chose to accept a smaller reward from a friendlier individual instead. This was 1 sticker instead of 8 for the children and 1 cracker instead of 2 for the babies. However, when the stakes grew much higher, both babies and children alike sang a different tune. At about 16 stickers, children showed increased willingness to do business with our “bad guy”, with about 67% of children “selling out” to cash in on that larger pack of stickers. Likewise, with infants between 12 – 13 months of age, they similarly showed more willingness to take the larger number of crackers (about 8) from the “bad puppet” rather than the single cracker from the “good puppet”. This time, with about 69% of babies “selling out” to get their hands on more of those scrumptious crackers.
What does this all mean? Well, from their results we might speculate that the willingness of people to pay a personal cost to avoid interacting with a less than favourable individual, is something that seems to be almost genetic. The researchers argue that this may be an evolutionary behaviour we’ve developed to foster cooperation and team work. After all, humans are highly social creatures and we’ve exhibited strong kinship structures and cooperative hunting methods deep into our evolutionary past. Researchers also suggest that this type of innate behaviour may have helped shape our cooperative nature, being a useful tool for “weeding out” individuals whose behaviour may be detrimental to the survival of the group.
Who knew we could learn so much from a group of babies!