Babies: Better Safe Than Sorry

Babies make quick judgments about adults’ anger, according to new I-LABS research.

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Adults often form fast opinions about each other's personalities, especially when it comes to negative traits. If we see someone argue with another driver over a parking space, for instance, we may assume that person tends to be confrontational.

The two new research studies with hundreds of 15-month-old infants demonstrate that babies form similar generalizations about others and make attempts to appease adults they consider prone to anger.

Betty Repacholi, an I-LABS faculty scientist, and Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of I-LABS who also holds the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Endowed Chair at UW, led the projects.

The work expands upon the researchers' earlier findings on self-control in 15-month-old babies, which revealed how babies use others' emotions to guide their own behavior.

The new studies provide new insights into young children's social-emotional development by showing for the first time that 15-month-olds generalize an adult's angry behavior even if the social context has changed. 

“Once babies have detected that someone’s prone to anger, it’s hard to dismiss," Repacholi said. "They’re taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach, where they’re not going to take a risk even though the situation has apparently changed.”

Learn more about the findings in a university news release.

Read the paper in Developmental Psychology »
Read the paper in Infancy »

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Want to know more about social-emotional development? Check out "Understanding Emotions," a free online training module by the I-LABS Outreach team. Learn more about it here »