The Loh Down On Science

Quit Yer Bellyachin'

Are our toddlers secretly judging us?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

If you think toddlers live to stash peas in their nostrils and draw on carpet, you’re right. But that’s not all they do.

So say anthropologists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute. At age three, toddlers can already tell when adults are really upset and when they’re just bellyaching.

In scientific terms? Toddlers can evaluate reasonableness.

The researchers had several dozen three-year-olds each sit with two adults. One adult either dropped a box lid on the other’s fingers, found extra marbles but didn’t share, or destroyed the other adult’s drawing.

They also acted out less upsetting scenarios. But each time, the aggrieved adult showed distress by either a frown, whimper, or pout.

What happened? When adults reacted reasonably, every child indicated concern. When adults overreacted? The child basically said, Meh, you faker!

The researchers say the study shows that toddlers genuinely consider situations first, before expressing sympathy.

Or giving adults a well-earned time out. So that's what my kids were doing!

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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