Mean Babies? New Study Shows Social Biases, And Schadenfreude, Starts At Nine Months [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on March 14, 2013 12:39 PM EDT

Mean Babies
Mean babies develop their ability to be lil' haters as early as nine months old. (Photo: YouTube)

We've heard of mean girls, but mean babies?

A new study published in Psychological Science reveals that mean babies develop their ornery characteristics as early as nine months. The study, out of the University of British Columbia, revealed that mean babies start noticing differences in other people between nine and 14 months and are capable of expressing their dislike towards those people. Psychological scientist Kiley Hamlin, now a professor at the University of British Columbia, conducted two studies about mean babies as a graduate student at Yale University. A press release announcing the study describes the methods researchers used to determine how mean babies express themselves:

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The researchers had 9- and 14-month-old infants choose which food they preferred: graham crackers or green beans. The infants then watched a puppet show in which one puppet preferred graham crackers, while another preferred green beans. That is, one puppet demonstrated that its food preference was the same as the infant's, while the other demonstrated that its food preference was different from the infant's.

After the puppets chose their foods, infants then watched another puppet show, in which either the similar puppet or the dissimilar puppet dropped its ball and wanted it back. On alternating events, infants saw that one character always helped the ball-less puppet by returning the ball to him, while another character always harmed the ball-less puppet by stealing the ball away.

Researchers were not surprised to discover that mean babies preferred the puppets who helped the ones that shared their taste in snacks. According to researchers, previous research has shown that infants like people who are nice to totally unknown individuals, so it makes sense that they would also like people who are nice to individuals who are similar to them.

However, researchers discovered that mean babies exist when their study revealed that infants preferred puppets that harmed the ones who didn't share their tastes as opposed to the puppets who helped the "different" puppets.

"Like adults, infants incorporate information about not only what people do but also whom they do it to when they make social evaluations," said Hamlin in the press release.

A second experiment involving a neutral puppet further confirmed their findings. Mean babies preferred the puppet that harmed the dissimilar puppets over the neutral puppet, and also preferred the neutral puppet to ones that helped the dissimilar puppets. This trait was only observed in 14-month old babies, however, leading researchers to believe that more nuanced social evaluation skills are developed during that five-month period.

"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. Rather, this research points to the importance of socialization practices that recognize just how basic these social biases might be and confront them head-on."

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