New York: At the dinner table, babies pay close attention to what food is being eaten around them — and especially who is eating it, suggests an interesting study.
The findings showed that one-year-old infants expect people to like the same food, unless those people belong to different social or cultural groups, such as those that speak a different language.
“Kids are sensitive to cultural groups early in life. When babies see someone eat, they are not just learning about food — they are also learning about who eats what with whom,” said Katherine Kinzler, Associate Professor at the Cornell University in New York, US.
The study supported the well-known fact in developmental psychology that babies will look longer at novel actions or things that deviate from their general expectations of the world.
“An ability to think about people as being ‘same versus different’ and perhaps even ‘us versus them’ starts very early in life,” Kinzler added.
Furthermore, babies were also found to have a slightly different take when it comes to food that might harm them.
When the babies saw a person act disgusted from eating a food, they expected that a second person would also be disgusted by that food — even if the second person was from a different social group.
This suggests “infants are particularly vigilant to social information that might signal danger”, the study said.
In addition, the team also discovered an insight into what babies identify as meaningful cultural differences.
While monolingual babies expected people who speak different languages to like different food, bilingual babies expected that people who speak different languages would eat the same food.
They might have had experience with this in their own home, where people speaking different languages are gathered around the table, the researchers explained.
The results may have implications for policymakers interested in shifting people’s unhealthy eating habits, they said.
Moreover, parents might need to consider that their children are watching as they eat together.
“If you feed your child the perfect diet, yet your child sees you and your friends and family eating junk food, she is presumably learning about foods from her social experiences, too,” Kinzler said in the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team set up a series of studies in which they showed more than 200 one-year-olds a series of videos of people expressing like or dislike of foods.
When the babies saw two people in the video speak the same language or act as if they were friends, the infants expected them to like the same foods.
When they saw two people who spoke different languages or acted as if they were unfriendly, the babies expected them to like different foods, the researchers concluded.