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Babies Judge Emotional Reactions Of Adults: Study

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Parents should be more careful about how they act in front of their children. Two related studies on baby psychology reveal that, even at 15 months old, children can form opinions based on an adult's reaction.

The two studies conducted by researchers at the Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) of the University of Washington analyzed the reactions of babies when they were exposed to "angry personalities." The goal is to answer whether the babies are going to react to them and how their perception changes their behavior.

For the first study, the researchers worked with a group of 270 15-month-old boys and girls and subjected them to two sets of experiments comprised of an Experimenter, an Emoter and some toys.

In the first experiment, the babies, sitting on their parents' laps, were allowed to see the Experimenter playing with toys, while an Emoter created either a neutral or angry response to the Experimenter's action. With each toy, the Emoter's reaction was consistent. After the interaction between the Emoter and the Experimenter, the latter then allowed the baby to play with the toy.

Based on the experiment, they found out that babies were more likely to avoid playing with the toy if the Emoter's response to it was stern as the "babies will do whatever they can to avoid being the target of anger," lead researcher Betty Repacholi said.

Meanwhile, the second study suggested that babies know how to appease anger-prone personalities.

For the experiment, the team presented a group of 70 15-month-olds, half of whom were boys and the other half girls, with fun toys, who were allowed to play with them for a while before the Emoter decided to take them away. About 69 percent of the babies who had seen the angry personality gave up their toys easily compared with 46 percent of those who were exposed to the neutral response.

Repacholi explained that it seems like the babies "didn't want to risk making the previously angry adult mad again. They didn't act this way with the other adult who had not shown anger."

As part of better parenting, the researchers remind parents to be more in control of their emotions, especially angry outbursts, as the babies could just be watching.

A previous study shows that babies may be aware of social dominance in relationships.

The first study is now available in the journal Developmental Psychology, while the second is soon to be published in Infancy.

Photo: Lars Plougmann | Flickr

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