herald

Saturday 24 August 2019

Showing them who's boss 'may be best way to socialise children'

Toddlers ‘expect leadership’
Toddlers ‘expect leadership’

A new study has found that parents who believe in showing their children who's boss may be on the right track.

Toddlers aged 17 months expect leaders to step up when a member of their group breaks the rules, research suggests.

Scientists say their findings indicate children in their second year have a well-developed understanding of social hierarchies and power dynamics.

Experiment

The research relied on a well-established method that gives insight into the reasoning of children too young to fully express themselves verbally.

Infants typically stare longer at events that unfold in ways they do not expect.

In a series of experiments, researchers used bear puppets to entertain the children.

Some of the 120 toddlers watched skits involving a protagonist bear that two other bears treated as a leader.

Some of the children saw a protagonist bear that appeared to have no authority over the other two bears.

In all of the scenes the protagonist presented the other bears with two toys for them to share, but one bear quickly grabbed both toys, leaving none for the other bear.

The children were then shown the protagonist either rectifying this transgression by redistributing one of the toys to the victim bear.

Or they watched the protagonist ignore the misbehaviour by approaching each bear and not redistributing a toy.

University of Illinois psychology professor Renee Baillargeon, who led the study, said: "Infants stared longer when the leader ignored the wrongdoing than when she rectified it.

"This suggests that infants expected the leader to intervene and right the wrong in her group, and were surprised when she took no such action."

When the leader ignored the transgression, the wrongdoer bear was also stared at for longer.

"We knew from previous work that children this age have specific ideas about how followers will behave toward their leaders," said Prof Baillargeon.

"Now we see that they also have complementary expectations about how leaders will behave toward their followers."

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