Toddlers tend to follow the crowd: study

Five children playing blocks
Five children playing blocks

A new study has shown children as young as two tend to follow the crowd, a result which may come as a surprise.

The study, published online in the Cell Press Journal Current Biology shows evidence that two-year-olds are more likely to pick up actions when they see them repeated by three of their peers than if they see the same thing done three times by a single peer.

"I think few people would have expected to find that two-year-olds are already influenced by the majority," says Daniel Haun of the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology and Psycholinguistics.

"Parents and teachers should be aware of these dynamics in children's peer interactions."

The same applies for chimpanzees - they are just as likely to pick up habits from their friends - proving a behavioural link between the two, share strategies for social learning. Orangutans did not appear to feel the majority sway.

Earlier studies had already shown that children respond to peer pressure, although it hadn't been established if the influence affected children as young as two.

For the study, Haun's researchers built a box with three different coloured holes. A treat was delivered only when a ball was dropped into one of the three holes.

Toddlers, chimpanzees and orangutans that hadn't seen the box before watched as four of their same-species peers used the box. Most of the demonstrators had been trained to favour one colour over the rest.

Once it was the toddlers' and chimpanzees' turn to play, they favoured the hole they'd seen their friends choose, unlike the orangutans who chose randomly.

Although parents may worry that 'monkey see money do' behaviour could be bad for their toddlers, Haun argues that it has its advantages.

"The tendency to acquire the behaviours of the majority has been posited as key to the transmission of relatively safe, reliable, and productive behavioural strategies."

- HERALD ONLINE

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