Babies form similar generalizations about others and try to appease adults they consider prone to anger, new pieces of research indicate.
Adults often form fast opinions about each other’s personalities, especially when it comes to negative traits. If we see someone argue with another driver over a parking space, for instance, we may assume that person tends to be confrontational.
Two new research studies with hundreds of 15-month-old infants demonstrate that babies form similar generalizations about others and make attempts to appease adults they consider prone to anger.
The research, by scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), reveal for the first time that 15-month-old babies generalize an adult’s angry behavior even if the social context has changed.
“Our research suggests that babies will do whatever they can to avoid being the target of anger,” said lead author Betty Repacholi, an I-LABS faculty scientist. “At this young of an age, they have already worked out a way to stay safe. It’s a smart, adaptive response.”
In one of the studies, published in the March issue of Developmental Psychology, Repacholi and co-authors wanted to see how exposing babies to an unfamiliar adult’s anger toward another adult would affect the babies’ behavior in a new situation. Do the babies assume that the initial negative encounters would happen again?
“Our research shows that babies are carefully paying attention to the emotional reactions of adults,” said co-author Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of I-LABS.