New Study Examines Aspects of Babies Social Awareness

Throughout decades of research, studies indicate that even during infancy, human beings are social creatures.  That includes having social awareness.  A new study from the University of Missouri shows that 13-month old babies understand social dynamics and are aware of perspective.

Previous research proves that babies prefer “nice” people who do kind things over “mean” people who are unkind or unpleasant.  And it has been shown that babies feel sorry for those who are the victims of unkind people.  A new study takes these findings a step further to discover what expectations babies have when someone does something wrong or witnesses another person doing something bad.

New Study Examines Aspects of Babies Social Awareness

The project showed 48 13-month old babies a series of puppet sketches where one character would hit another, first by themselves and then in the presence of another character.  The babies showed concern for the wounded puppet but, when the third character re-entered without having witnessed the violence, they didn’t expect him to know about it.  Conversely, when the third character was present, they expected him to do something about the situation and not want to play with the bully.  In another scene, one character hit another unintentionally, which the babies seemed to understand was an accident and didn’t have an expectation of how the character should be treated.

Reactions were gauged by how long the babies focused on the scenes and characters.  This form of measurement was used because babies tend to stare longer when something is askew than when everything seems normal to them.

The findings show that babies are not only aware when someone is being a bully or a victim, but also how they should be treated and punished for their actions.  Additionally, it shows an understanding of perspective called the “theory of mind,” which previously was believed to develop the later stage of socialization in preschool.  This theory purports that babies wouldn’t expect someone to know something if they hadn’t seen it themselves.  Babies can remove their own knowledge of the situation and think about what another person may or may not know.

This amazing research was published in January in Psychological Science and was reported by LiveScience.  While babies may be lacking social skills in many ways, we now know they have an incredible awareness of complex and intense social interactions.  This will serve them well as they continue to develop into social beings, learn how to treat others with respect, begin to follow social norms and evolve into well adjusted people.