New research indicates that babies understand social dominance related to size. Scientists discovered this by showing babies two cartoons in which two blocks with faces come face-to-face. In one cartoon, the smaller block defers to the larger block and steps aside, in the other the larger block steps aside. The babies looked longer at the cartoon in which the large block defers to the small, which indicates that they were surprised by this turn of events.

There’s something almost scary to me about this image of babies gazing thoughtfully at the small block in charge. We seem to learn something new every day about babies’ capacity for understanding, so I imagine gears cranking furiously as the babies considered the possibility that they are more powerful than they realized. Were they just showing interest or were they planning a coup?

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Babies Have to Get Their Way Somehow

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  1. Wonderful post. Infants, even tiny ones, likely exploit any cue they possibly can to help them understand this crazy world we create for them. I love the idea of babies recognizing their own power to get their needs met–what an important foundation for self competence and so many other things.

    “Attached parents” (as we are sometimes called) definitely believe in the power of *responsiveness* to facilitate the development of empathy–although admittedly, a lot more research is needed before we can say this with more than intuitive confidence.

    And yes, the whole “let them cry it out” approach is just plain wrong.

  2. Is there research underway on attachment parenting and empathy? On attachment parenting and bullying? How would you research something like that? Longitudinal? Cross-sectional?

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