Young children alter behavior to please others, Emory grad student's research finds

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | April 11, 2019

Watch Sara Botto's TEDxAtlanta talk on the TEDx Talks YouTube page.

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“I have spent the past four years at Emory University investigating how an infant, who has no problem walking around the grocery store in her onesie, develops into an adult that fears public speaking for fear of being negatively judged,” says Sara Botto in her newly released TEDxAtlanta talk.

Botto is a doctoral candidate in the Cognition and Development program of Emory’s Department of Psychology. Together with Emory psychologist Philippe Rochat, she designed experiments to investigate when in development we become sensitive others’ evaluations — a big part of being human.

Watch the TEDxAtlanta video above to see young children reacting to the opinions of others during the experiments, which take the form of a game called “The Robot Task.”

Botto’s research showed that, even before they can form a simple sentence, children are sensitive to the evaluations of others, and alter their behavior accordingly.

“Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re constantly communicating values to others,” Botto says. “We’re communicating a value when we mostly compliment girls for their pretty hair or their pretty dress but boys for their intelligence. Or when we choose to offer candy as opposed to nutiritous food as an award for good behavior.”

Visit Botto’s web site, AdultingWithKids.com, to learn more about credible, science-based child development research.