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Nature. 2007 Nov 22;450(7169):557-9.

Social evaluation by preverbal infants.

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Yale University, Department of Psychology, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8205, USA.


The capacity to evaluate other people is essential for navigating the social world. Humans must be able to assess the actions and intentions of the people around them, and make accurate decisions about who is friend and who is foe, who is an appropriate social partner and who is not. Indeed, all social animals benefit from the capacity to identify individual conspecifics that may help them, and to distinguish these individuals from others that may harm them. Human adults evaluate people rapidly and automatically on the basis of both behaviour and physical features, but the ontogenetic origins and development of this capacity are not well understood. Here we show that 6- and 10-month-old infants take into account an individual's actions towards others in evaluating that individual as appealing or aversive: infants prefer an individual who helps another to one who hinders another, prefer a helping individual to a neutral individual, and prefer a neutral individual to a hindering individual. These findings constitute evidence that preverbal infants assess individuals on the basis of their behaviour towards others. This capacity may serve as the foundation for moral thought and action, and its early developmental emergence supports the view that social evaluation is a biological adaptation.

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