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A 10-month-old baby girl.
Babies may be able to show sympathy before their first birthday, according to a new study in which 10-month-olds preferred the victims rather than the aggressors in a bullying encounter.
The research, published Wednesday (June 12) in the journal PLOS ONE,
is the first to find evidence of possible sympathy in children younger than toddlers, the researchers said. Sympathy is the feeling of concern for others.
Because 10-month-olds can't yet express sympathy verbally, Kyoto University researcher Shoji Itakura and colleagues turned to a common tactic in baby-brain research
: using simple animations to determine what infants prefer. They showed 40 babies an animation of a blue ball and a yellow cube.
Half of the infants watched a short clip in which the blue ball chased the yellow cube around the screen, hitting it seven times before finally squishing it against a wall. The other half of the group saw the same movements, including the squishing, but the two shapes moved independently without interacting.
In some cases, the "bully" and "victim" roles were swapped, so that the yellow cube was the bad guy. After watching the show, the babies were shown a real yellow cube and a real blue ball, and given the chance to reach for one of the objects.
In cases where the babies had seen one shape beating up on the other, they overwhelmingly reached for the victim, 16 out of 20 times. In comparison, when the shapes hadn't interacted, the babies' choices were basically random - nine went for the shape that had gotten squished, and the other 11 went for the nonsquished shape.