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Do Babies Prefer Bullies?

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There are many sweet things about babies, scientifically speaking. They prefer to give rather than receive, they demonstrate empathy, and they generally prefer kind people to those who are unkind. But a new study by the University of British Columbia suggests that infants as young as nine months actually may condone antisocial behavior when it’s directed at someone who is different than they are.

The study asked babies to choose whether they liked green beans or graham crackers. Then, they watched a puppet show where one puppet liked the same food as the baby and one liked the other food. When the puppet that liked the same food as the baby harmed the other puppet (who liked the opposite food), the baby demonstrated a strong preference for the puppet that did harm to the other puppet. One baby even kissed the antisocial puppet.

Plus: What To Do When Your Kid's The Bully

“The idea is that even though these tendencies to excuse harmful behavior directed at those we don’t like might be a basic aspect of humans, it doesn’t mean that those tendencies have the same kind of meaning that they would if an adult showed them,” says J. Kiley Hamlin PhD, author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

The trick, then, becomes discouraging such tendencies in our kids as they grow up.

“Parents and educators should avoid focusing on what makes kids different from each other, and instead focus on what makes them the same,” says Hamlin. The research supports this: infants also really liked those who helped people similar to them. 

Have your kids shown preference for those who are similar to them? What have you done to help them learn acceptance and tolerance? Leave a comment.