Science has great news for parents of sensitive babies

Two little boys

If you have a very tuned-in, wary and/or sensitive little one, you’ll be heartened to know that their temperament will ultimately set them in good stead – and make them a really excellent human!

Tapping into other people’s emotions 

A new study into infant and toddler behaviour has revealed that babies who are sensitive are also tuned into the emotions of others, and go on to become very helpful toddlers (and hopefully very caring adults!)

University of Virginia research team showed a bunch of very small babies a “fearful face”. They monitored the babies’ reactions to the “fearful face” by tracking the infants’ eye movements.

Then, they came back when those same kids were toddlers to see how their behaviour and responses to other humans had further developed.

They found that the babies who were most sensitive to the “fearful faces”, grew to be more compassionate and helpful toddlers. These toddlers readily noticed how others might be feeling and were keen to connect in positive ways, by being helpful. 

“The study found babies who paid attention to fearful faces tended to be more helpful at 14 months, bringing researchers pens and balls that were out of their reach,” Scimex reports.

This helpful behaviour was exclusively linked to babies who responded most to the “fearful faces”.

“The analysis revealed that altruistic behaviour in toddlerhood was predicted by infants’ attention to fearful faces but not happy or angry faces.”


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Babies know what’s going on

The study authors say this suggests helping behaviours are formed at a very early age, and that our recognition of other people’s emotions starts early too.

“Our results are in line with the notion that a caring continuum exists, along which individuals differ in their tendency to display sensitive responses to others’ distress that motivate prosocial action,” study lead author, Tobias Grossmann, of the University of Virginia said. 

It’s hoped that understanding what makes us care about others, and when they groundwork for this sort of altruism is laid, will help us to foster more nurturing and compassionate humans.

So if your baby seems very tapped into the feelings of others, know that they’re going to grow into a very helpful human being.

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