Children as young as 15 months old can detect anger when watching other people’s social interactions and alter their own behaviour as a result, according to new research.
The study by the University of Washington, published in this month’s Cognitive Development journal, is the first evidence that younger toddlers are capable of using multiple cues from emotions and vision to understand the motivations of the people around them.
‘At 15 months of age, children are trying to understand their social world and how people will react,’ said lead author Betty Repacholi.
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‘In this study we found that toddlers who aren’t yet speaking can use visual and social cues to understand other people – that’s sophisticated cognitive skills for 15-month-olds.’
Researchers analysed the behavior of 150 toddlers at 15 months of age – an even mix of boys and girls – when watching an experimenter show them how to use a range of toys.
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Another experimenter – referred to as the ‘emoter’ – then entered the room and caused an argument over the toys.
After witnessing the argument, the children then had a chance to play with the toys, whilst the ‘emoter’ either held a neutral expression, turned their back or left the room.
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When the emoter was not in the room, toddlers eagerly grabbed the toy and copied the actions they had seen in the demonstration.
When they were in the room, most toddlers in these groups hesitated before touching the toy, waiting about four seconds on average. And when they finally did reach out, the children were less likely to imitate the action the experimenter had demonstrated, leading up to the argument.
Does your little one pick up on arguments? Let us know below.