Babies Prefer Individuals Who Harm Those Who Aren’t Like Them

via Association For Psychological Science

For some getting picked for the team is an affirmation of where they sit in the group. Never mind being the person picked to picked the other people. What about those who are picked last, sometimes with a grumble? Is it because they wear the same my little pony shirt? Is it because they keep repeating Sgt. Slaughter’s words from that one G.I. Joe episode, calling people scuzzbuckets?

Is it because they are fat, have braces, wear glasses, or any other such oddity? The short answer is no. The long answer is that kids can be naturally cruel, sort of. It appears it all depends on what is normal to them, and that these norms may begin to develop at a very early age.

In our social lives, we tend to gravitate toward people who have things in common with us, whether it’s growing up in the same town, disliking the same foods, or even sharing the same birthday. And research suggests that babies evaluate people in much the same way, preferring people who like the same foods, clothes, and toys that they like.

This preference helps us to form social bonds, but it can also have a dark side. Disliking people who are different than us may lead us to mistreat them, and excuse — or even applaud — cases in which others mistreat people who are different than us.

Are the roots of such tendencies present in infancy?

To find out, psychological scientist Kiley Hamlin, now a professor at the University of British Columbia, conducted two studies as a graduate student at Yale University with her advisor Karen Wynn and colleagues.

The researchers had 9- and 14-month-old infants choose which food they preferred: graham crackers or green beans. The infants then watched a puppet show in which one puppet preferred graham crackers, while another preferred green beans. That is, one puppet demonstrated that its food preference was the same as the infant’s, while the other demonstrated that its food preference was different from the infant’s.

After the puppets chose their foods, infants then watched another puppet show, in which either the similar puppet or the dissimilar puppet dropped its ball and wanted it back. On alternating events, infants saw that one character always helped the ball-less puppet by returning the ball to him, while another character always harmed the ball-less puppet by stealing the ball away.

Finally, infants were given the chance to choose between the helper (giving) and harmer (stealing) puppets (see videos of the procedure) .

Unsurprisingly, infants’ choices revealed that almost all the infants in both the 9- and 14-month-old groups preferred the character who helped the similar puppet over the character who harmed the similar puppet. Previous research has shown that infants like people who are nice to totally unknown individuals, so it makes sense that they would also like people who are nice to individuals who are similar to them.

Far more surprising was that almost all the infants at both ages preferred the character who harmed the dissimilar puppet over the character who helped him. Infants’ preference for those who harmed dissimilar others was just as strong as their preference for those who helped similar ones.

According to Hamlin, these findings suggest that “like adults, infants incorporate information about not only what people do (e.g., acting nicely or meanly) but also whom they do it to (e.g., a person who is liked or disliked) when they make social evaluations.”


  • Ted Heistman

    I hate graham crackers. Babies are stupid.

    • Rhoid Rager

      You seem a bit negative lately, Ted. You stuck in a funk or sumfin?

      • Ted Heistman

        I’m just sick of babies and their stupid graham crackers and anti-green beanism. I’ll get over it.

        • echar

          Are you team carrots and Nilla wafers?

  • kowalityjesus

    The study proves something; not liking a person for being different *is infantile*.

    • Matt Staggs

      I see what you did there…

      • kowalityjesus


  • geminihigh

    These findings are hard to digest for those who have fully been indoctrinated into, and fully embrace the lie of egalitarianism. The tribal mentalities that laid the groundwork for the institution of racism to exist and thrive are clearly hardwired into the brain from birth. Until these issues are honestly tackled head on the “discussion about race and ethnic relations” will continue to go nowhere, which personally I feel many minority “leaders” intend to see continue to stagnate. Using the victim/race card and trying to manipulate “white guilt” to their advantage is a tactic many groups and individuals refuse to stop utilizing. Paradoxically, these beliefs and use of these lame tactics really do render these individuals and the people the claim to represent as inferior in many ways (not biologically speaking) They always have something to prove, which is a burden that can’t go away until. Its tragic that these assholes speak for so many who just want to live their lives like everyone else. We are taught from an early age that everybody is created equal, yet everyone is unique, but we can’t talk about the differences and uniqueness between various groups of people because that would prove that everyone is NOT created equally in respect to talent and attributes. It makes for a very uncomfortable, perpetual encounter with an elephant in the room. These findings do not validate racism nor are they an excuse for violence against those who are different. For these reasons I try my damned hardest to treat and view people as unique individuals and ignore the fact that they may not be of my “tribe.” I feel more comfortable when I am surrounded by people who are of my “tribe.” This does not make me, or anyone who experiences the same, a racist or bigot. It makes me a HUMAN BEING. Face it, its all in the neuro-wiring. Get over it, accept it, and lets move on past race politics and actually accomplish something!

    • echar

      Well said… “get over yourself and move forward” is a mantra I use for myself. From my perspective, western culture focuses far too much on the kid that is picked to pick who will be on the team, and those who wil lbe on the team. Those who are the last to be picked are left to fend for themselves emotionally. I think that this may be because there is much emphasis on “doers” and less on “thinkers”. Unlike in Eastern culture, where the introspective is more revered.

      Here is something interesting you may not know. In a rafter of turkeys, if one is made to be different the other turkeys will attack that odd one. We don’t want to be to be turkeys, at least I don’t.

      • kowalityjesus

        nice *anal*ogy… with a pun on “anal” with reference to the Freudian phase in human development.

        • echar

          you did it again!