Can Babies Show Sympathy?
Study finds that, even without the use of words, infants can show sympathy for victims in distress
We know babies are capable of joy and anger, but when does the more complex feeling of sympathy kick in?
A new study suggests that it can happen as early as 10-months-old.
Infants that age can “show rudimentary sympathy toward others in distress,” researchers from Kyoto University and Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan have concluded. “…This simple preference (for victims) may function as a foundation for full-fledged sympathetic behavior later on.”
Their findings, published in the online journal “Plos One,” were based on experiments conducted with 40, ten-month-old infants. The babies were shown an animated “aggressive social interaction” between two shapes: a blue ball violently crushing a yellow cube. The ball was the so-called aggressor while the cube was the victim.
Researchers found that babies consistently reached for the cube. When the shapes’ roles were reversed, babies’ preferences switched as well, with more reaching for the “victimized” ball. When researchers introduced a new, neutral shape to the scenario, the results remained the same: the babies’ loyalties to the victim shape didn’t waver.
The results come as a surprise to moms like Amy Cohen of Petaluma, California. Cohen, who has two daughters, ages 4 and 2, said she didn’t recall her girls expressing sympathy at such a young age. Only once the girls were about a year to 18-months old, she said, did she begin to notice something resembling sympathetic concern.
Her older daughter, she said, “appeared to show concern when she’d see (or) hear other babies or children crying.”
New York City resident Anna Graubart, also a mom of two daughters, said her youngest has been showing sympathy since at least 13-months old: When her mother says “ouch,” the girl — now almost a year-and-a-half old — will pat and kiss mommy’s boo-boo.
The downside? Boo-boo is often the result of the otherwise charming tot hitting Graubart.
“It makes me wonder,” Graubart said, “when the sympathy turns into not hitting.”
A question, perhaps, for future studies.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN