Infants Differentiate between Helpful, Hurtful Playmates

Article excerpt

Infants differentiate between helpful, hurtful playmates

Even infants can tell the difference between naughty and nice playmates and know which to choose, a new study finds.

Babies as young as 6 months to 10 months old showed crucial social judging skills before they could talk, according to a study by researchers at Yale University's Infant Cognition Center published in the Nov. 22 journal Nature.

The infants watched a googly-eyed wooden toy trying to climb roller-coaster hills and then another googly-eyed toy coming by and either helping it over the mountain or pushing it backward. They then were presented with the toys to see which they would play with.

Almost every baby picked the helpful toy rather than the hindering one.

The babies also chose neutral toys -- ones that didn't help or hinder -- over the naughty ones. And the babies chose the helping toys over the neutral ones.

"It's incredibly impressive that babies can do this," said study lead author Kiley Hamlin, a Yale psychology researcher. "It shows that we have these essential social skills occurring without much explicit teaching."

There was no difference in reaction between the boys and girls, but when the researchers took away the large eyes that made the toys somewhat lifelike, the babies didn't show the same social judging skills, Hamlin said.

The choice of nice over naughty follows a school of thought that humans have some innate social abilities, not just those learned from their parents.

Treat your children -- and your parents -- well

Middle-age parents who wonder how their grown kids will treat them in old age should look at how they're treating their own elderly parents, according to a multigeneration study.

"Apparently, we have to demonstrate the desired behavior. We can't be estranged from our parents and then expect our kids to be nice to us later," says Daphna Gans, a gerontologist for the Rand Corp. Gans did the study at the University of Southern California with sociologist Merril Silverstein.

Their report at the Gerontological Society of America meeting in San Francisco followed 237 mothers and their 379 offspring over 15 years. At the start, mothers were mostly in their 50s and had living parents as well as young-adult children. Later, mothers were in their mid-60s to late 70s. Those who reported getting the most emotional support and practical help from their grown children:

Had provided similar care or help to their own parents

Had formed strong emotional bonds with their children, as reported earlier by the offspring

Also, those who said their parents gave them financial help or major gifts -- cars, furniture -- as young adults tended to live closer and keep in frequent contact with their parents later. …