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Social evaluation by preverbal infants

Abstract

The capacity to evaluate other people is essential for navigating the social world. Humans must be able to assess the actions and intentions of the people around them, and make accurate decisions about who is friend and who is foe, who is an appropriate social partner and who is not. Indeed, all social animals benefit from the capacity to identify individual conspecifics that may help them, and to distinguish these individuals from others that may harm them. Human adults evaluate people rapidly and automatically on the basis of both behaviour and physical features1,2,3,4,5,6, but the ontogenetic origins and development of this capacity are not well understood. Here we show that 6- and 10-month-old infants take into account an individual’s actions towards others in evaluating that individual as appealing or aversive: infants prefer an individual who helps another to one who hinders another, prefer a helping individual to a neutral individual, and prefer a neutral individual to a hindering individual. These findings constitute evidence that preverbal infants assess individuals on the basis of their behaviour towards others. This capacity may serve as the foundation for moral thought and action, and its early developmental emergence supports the view that social evaluation is a biological adaptation.

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Figure 1: Social interaction events shown to infants.
Figure 2: Choice results.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Norman, J. Stitelman, E. Madva, K. McCrink, G. Newman and E. Cheries for their assistance and input. This work was supported in part by a National Science Foundation grant to K.W.

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Correspondence to J. Kiley Hamlin or Karen Wynn.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Video 1

This file contains Supplementary Video 1. This movie shows the Helper habituation event in Experiments 1 and 3, in which the Climber attempts but fails to get up the hill and is helped to the top by the Helper (in this case the yellow triangle). (MOV 231 kb)

Supplementary Video 2

This file contains Supplementary Video 2. This movie shows the Hinderer habituation event in Experiments 1 and 3, in which the Climber attempts but fails to get up the hill and is pushed to the bottom by the Hinderer (in this case the blue square). (MOV 235 kb)

Supplementary Video 3

This file contains Supplementary Video 3. This movie shows the test event in Experiments 1 and 3 in which the Climber looks around and moves to sit next to the yellow triangle. (MOV 94 kb)

Supplementary Video 4

This file contains Supplementary Video 4. This movie shows the test event in Experiments 1 and 3 in which the Climber looks around and moves to sit next to the blue square. (MOV 104 kb)

Supplementary Video 5

This file contains Supplementary Video 5. This movie shows the Pushing Up habituation event in Experiment 2, in which an inanimate circle rests at the bottom of the hill before being pushed to the top by the Pusher-Upper (in this case the blue square). (MOV 653 kb)

Supplementary Video 6

Supplementary Video 6. This movie shows the Pushing Down habituation event in Experiment 2, in which an inanimate circle rests at the top of the hill before being pushed down to the bottom by the Pusher-Downer (in this case the yellow triangle). (MOV 723 kb)

Supplementary Video 7

This file contains Supplementary Video 7. This movie shows the Neutral habituation event that is paired with the Helper event (shown in Supplementary Video 1) in the Helper/Neutral condition of Experiment 3. The Neutral character comes onto the screen and dances up the hill while the Climber rests at the bottom, performing identical physical motions to the Helper, but not affecting the Climber in any way. (MOV 135 kb)

Supplementary Video 8

This file contains Supplementary Video 8. This movie shows the Neutral habituation event that is paired with the Hinderer event (shown in Supplementary Video 2) in the Hinderer/Neutral condition of Experiment 3. The Neutral character comes onto the screen and dances down the hill while the Climber rests at the bottom, performing identical physical motions to the Hinderer, but not affecting the Climber in any way. (MOV 106 kb)

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Hamlin, J., Wynn, K. & Bloom, P. Social evaluation by preverbal infants. Nature 450, 557–559 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06288

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