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Preferring the Mighty to the Meek: Toddlers Prefer Novel Dominant Agents


Every human society includes social hierarchies-- relationships between individuals and groups of unequal rank or status. Recent research has shown that even preverbal infants represent hierarchical relationships, expecting larger agents and agents from larger groups to win dominance contests. However, to successfully navigate social hierarchies, infants must also integrate information about social rank into their own behavior, such as when deciding which individuals to approach and which to avoid. Here we demonstrate that two-year-old children (ages 21-31 months) preferred novel dominant agents to subordinates. That is, by the age of 21 months, toddlers not only use phylogenetically stable cues to predict the winner of dominance contests, they also like the dominant agents better. This finding suggests that young children use their ability to infer relative rank to selectively approach dominant individuals.

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