Infants distinguish between leaders and bullies

Francesco Margoni, Massimo Caine
2019 TheScienceBreaker  
We examined whether 21-month-old infants could distinguish between two broad types of social power: respect-based power exerted by a leader (who might be an authority figure with legitimate power, a prestigious individual with merited power, or some combination thereof) and fear-based power exerted by a bully. Infants first saw three protagonists interact with a character who was either a leader (leader condition) or a bully (bully condition). Next, the character gave an order to the
more » ... r to the protagonists, who initially obeyed; the character then left the scene, and the protagonists either continued to obey (obey event) or no longer did so (disobey event). Infants in the leader condition looked significantly longer at the disobey than at the obey event, suggesting that they expected the protagonists to continue to obey the leader in her absence. In contrast, infants in the bully condition looked equally at the two events, suggesting that they viewed both outcomes as plausible: The protagonists might continue to obey the absent bully to prevent further harm, or they might disobey her because her power over them weakened in her absence. Additional results supported these interpretations: Infants expected obedience when the bully remained in the scene and could harm the protagonists if defied, but they expected disobedience when the order was given by a character with little or no power over the protagonists. Together, these results indicate that by 21 months of age, infants already hold different expectations for subordinates' responses to individuals with respect-based as opposed to fearbased power. infancy | social power | authority | prestige | bullying H ow do infants represent and make sense of the social world (1-8)? When peering beyond the havens of their families, do they perceive a uniform social landscape in which all individuals are more or less equivalent? Or do they perceive a varied landscape structured by several types of social distinctions, each laden with rich implications for how interactions might unfold? According to recent research, one type of social distinction infants represent has to do with group memberships: Even when watching unfamiliar individuals in novel or minimal groups, infants attend to group boundaries and hold different expectations for interactions within as opposed to between groups (9-12). The present research focused on another type of distinction in infants' social landscape having to do with hierarchical and, more specifically, power differences among individuals. Following French and Raven (13) and other researchers from across the social sciences (14-18), we define power in terms of control-for example, control over resources and rights-of-way, and control or, at least, influence over individuals. Prior research on infants' sensitivity to power asymmetries has revealed three main findings. First, infants in the first year of life already understand power differences and can use size cues to determine who is more likely to prevail when two individuals have conflicting goals. In seminal experiments (19), 10-to 16-moolds saw a zero-sum conflict scenario involving a large and a small character. On alternate familiarization trials, one character crossed a platform in one direction, and the other character did the same in the opposite direction. In the next trial, both characters were present, moved as before, and bumped against each other three times at the center of the platform. In the test trials, each character again blocked the other's path, but then either the small (expected event) or the large (unexpected event) character bowed and yielded the way, leaving the other character free to cross the platform and reach its goal. Infants looked significantly longer at the unexpected than at the expected event, suggesting that they could use relative size as a cue to predict which character was more likely to have the right-of-way. Subsequent experiments (20) using numerical set size as a cue to power produced similar results: 6-to 12-mo-olds detected a violation when a character from a set of three bowed and gave way to a character from a set of two. Infants thus expected an individual from a numerically larger set to prevail over an opponent from a numerically smaller set. Second, by about their first birthday, infants appreciate that power differences may be stable over time. In one experiment involving similar-sized characters (21), 12-mo-olds first saw A prevail over B in a zero-sum conflict scenario involving the collection of identical objects: As each object appeared, A and B both approached it, faced off briefly, and then A took it. In the test trials, the two characters competed over a new object, and either A (expected event) or B (unexpected event) collected it. Infants looked significantly longer at the unexpected event, suggesting that they expected A to again prevail over B. This effect was eliminated when B was replaced by new character C in the test trials, indicating that infants were willing to generalize A's power over B to another, very similar conflict scenario, but not to another character C. Additional results indicated that infants did generalize A's power to extend over C, however, if they were first shown both that B prevailed over C and that A prevailed over B; infants then expected A to also prevail over C, via transitive inference (22) . Third, by about 15 mo of age, infants realize that a power relation between two individuals may extend across a range of situations. Significance Prior research indicates that infants can represent power asymmetries and expect them to both endure over time and extend across situations. Building on these efforts, we examined whether 21-month-old infants could distinguish between two different bases of social power. Infants first saw three protagonists interact with a powerful character who was either a leader (with respect-based power) or a bully (with fearbased power). Next, the character gave an order to the protagonists. Infants expected the protagonists to continue to obey the leader's order after she left the scene, but they expected the protagonists to obey the bully's order only when she remained present. Thus, by 21 months of age, infants can already distinguish between respect-based and fear-based power relations.
doi:10.25250/thescbr.brk181 fatcat:lojp2wxwrbe4rcmyesctkandsi