Infants Exhibit Early Understanding of Social Behavior
December 13, 2007 -- A recent study conducted by Yale researchers finds that the ability to evaluate social behavior and distinguish a friend from foe may begin during infancy, not in the earlier stages of adolescence as previously thought.
In the experiment, the infants watched several demonstrations of three toy-like shapes that were given certain behavioral traits, the “climber,” the “helper,” and the “hinderer.” The infants were then encouraged to play with the helper and hinderer shapes, but the majority of the infants consistently chose the shape that had "behaved" most positively.
Previous studies have indicated that infants base their social evaluation on an individual's general physical features or attractiveness. This new finding reveals that infants are also capable of reacting to social actions, not just superficial traits. These experiments support claims that the perception of a person's intentions may be untrained and that some social evaluations are innate, even during a child’s first few months.
The National Academies have done several studies on the phases of development, from early childhood to adulthood. In particular, the 2000 report From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development discusses the rapid growth of a child’s mind from birth. The report concludes that the first months and years of life matter a lot because they can provide either a sturdy foundation or a fragile one for what is to come. From the time of conception to the first day of kindergarten, environments and experiences shape the child’s growth in ways that can enhance or inhibit healthy development.
Children exhibit dramatic progress from birth in their emotional, social, regulatory, and moral capacities. The Academies’ report recommends that the nation thoroughly re-examine policies that affect young children and bolster its investments in their well-being, calling upon the president to establish a task force to review the entire portfolio of public investments in child care and early childhood education -- with the goal of making the most of scientific knowledge.
The Academies are now working on two new studies about children's early development. One is examining research and assessments for children ages 0-5 and the links between early and educational services. The other is learning during early childhood.