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Study: Babies are bigots

Babies prefer their own kind says study. Photo via Pavel Jedlicka.

A new study suggests that babies tend to gravitate towards those who like the same things they like and dislike those who are different from them or have different interests.

According to Science Daily on Tuesday, a study conducted by Kiley Hamlin, a psychological scientist and professor at the University of British Columbia, had infants 9-months of age and 14-months of age choose between two foods.

One group picked green beans while the other chose graham crackers. The babies and tots were then shown a puppet show in which a puppet showed the same food preference. The puppet show was followed up by another puppet show where each puppet (the one who liked the same food and the one who liked a different food) dropped their ball.

The babies then offered to help the puppet who showed the same food preference while they took the ball from the puppet that did not share their food preference. The study showed that almost all of the infants and tots reacted the same way. Not only did the babies prefer the puppet with the same food preference, they also sought to punish or harm the one with a different food preference.

The researchers also added a second experiment, adding a neutral puppet which did not have a food preference at all, however, the babies still preferred the puppet that liked the same food as them. When the neutral puppet and same food preference puppet sought to help the puppet with the opposite food preference, the babies attitudes changed towards their similar puppet changed. They disliked the same food preference puppet and the neutral puppet when they tried to help the puppet of a different food preference and liked them disproportionately more so when the same food preference puppet and neutral puppet sought to harm or punish the puppet with a different food preference.

Hamlin offered the following analysis of the outcome, “Infants might experience something like schadenfreude at the suffering of an individual they dislike,” Hamlin notes. “Or perhaps they recognize the alliances that are implied by social interactions, identifying an ‘enemy of their enemy’ (i.e., the harmer of a dissimilar puppet) as their friend.”

Hamlin also said, “The fact that infants show these social biases before they can even speak suggests that the biases aren’t solely the result of experiencing a divided social world, but are based in part on basic aspects of human social evaluation.”

Hamlin hopes the study will help parents and caregivers better understand socialization from a baby’s point of view. “[T]his research points to the importance of socialization practices that recognize just how basic these social biases might be and confront them head-on,” Hamlin suggests.