Even 1-yr-old babies understand social dominance

Washington: Babies as young as one year old can understand social dominance and use relative size of the individuals as a cue for it, a new study has claimed.

The research by a team from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Harvard University also suggested that people may be born with -or develop at a very early age -some ability to understand social dominance and how it relates to relative size.

The study titled `Big and Mighty: Preverbal Infants Mentally Represent Social Dominance` has been published in the scientific journal Science.

"As we have tried to communicate with the title of our paper `Big&Mighty`, what we have shown is that even pre-verbal infants understand social dominance and use relative size as a cue for it," said Lotte Thomsen, of the University of Copenhagen, who led the study.

"To put it simply, if a big and a small guy have goals that conflict, preverbal infants expect the big guy to win over the little guy," Thomsen said.

According to the research, this potentially instinctive knowledge in infants could indicate that we are all born with an understanding of social hierarchy and how physical size relates to social dominance.

For their study, Thomsen and her colleagues at Harvard University studied the reactions of infants ranging from 8 to 16 months old as they watched videos of interactions between cartoon figures of various sizes.

"The trouble with working with pre-verbal infants is that you cannot just interview them and ask them what they think. So instead you have to look at what they do. And one of the things we know is that infants like adults tend to look longer at something that surprises them," Thomsen explained.

To see if infants use size as a cue for social dominance, they were shown simple cartoons of a big and little block that meet in the middle of a stage and bump into each other, blocking each others way.

In one of the cartoons the big block essentially defeats the smaller block, and in the second one the opposite occurs.

"If we`re right that infants expect the largest agent to have the right-of-way, then they should look at the screen longer when the opposite happens -that is when the big guy yields to the small guy. And that is exactly what we found," said Thomsen.