In a study of 150 15-month-olds recently published in the journal Cognitive Development, babies watched as an adult demonstrated how to use different noise-making toys. The demonstration was then repeated as a second adult (referred to in the study as “the emoter”) came in the room and angrily berated the first one for making too much noise. Afterwards, the babies had a chance to play with the toys; in half of the cases, the angry adult either left the room or turned away from the babies, and in the other half stood facing them with a neutral expression.
Babies in the former group reached for the toys without hesitation, but under the gaze of the formerly angry adult, the majority of those in the latter group waited a few seconds, on average, before picking them up. When they did, they were less likely to play with them in the same way as they had been shown, indicating that they were adjusting (or at least trying to adjust).
“They want to pick up the object, they want to imitate the interesting act that the adult is doing. But if they can use executive function to regulate their emotional behavior, they can resist that impulse,” said study co-author Andrew Meltzoff.
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*Image of “baby” via Shutterstock