Infants Can Recognize When Someone is Being a Bully

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iStock

Despite their tiny brains being only half the size of an adult’s, babies remain an underestimated intellectual power. Their cognitive functioning improves rapidly, with the cerebellum—the part of the brain responsible for movement—growing by 110 percent in the first three months alone. More than 100 billion neurons are packed into their softball-sized noggins to help facilitate development.

A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has illustrated just how potent all that neurological activity can be. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlights, in a controlled experiment, infants could distinguish between benevolent leadership and fear-mongering bullies.

In the study, 96 infants aged 21 months were exposed to a series of cartoon sequences that depicted an assertive leader, a bully, and an individual with no apparent influence ordering three characters to go to bed. (The leader was denoted by having the subordinate characters bow; the “bully” smacked them with a stick.) The children watched as the characters either listened to their guardian or disobeyed by remaining awake. The infants appeared more interested and engaged when the leader’s instructions were disobeyed, while they maintained interest in both the bully being respected and ignored. Both outcomes appeared equally plausible to the kids.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

How can researchers really know what infants are processing? By using a technique called the “violation of expectation.” While babies can’t verbally articulate their feelings, researchers can collect insight by studying their eye gaze, which holds when something is capturing their attention. When a baby observes an event that contradicts their expectations, they tend to stare at it for longer periods of time. In this study, when a “leader” was disobeyed, the babies stared because it was an unpredictable event. They anticipated the authority figure would be respected. When the bully’s orders were processed, they stared at both outcomes, suggesting they considered each (obeying the bully to avoid punishment or ignoring the bully because they were now alone) to be plausible.

By anticipating obedience with a leader, disobedience when a bully left the scene, or ignored directions by a third, powerless character, the infants had the ability to recognize different kinds of authority, the study suggests. Because the third character was portrayed as likeable, it didn’t appear that a child’s personal preference for a figure was a factor in their expectations. Even more adorable research will be needed in order to better understand how babies are influenced by supervisors, but it's clear they're noticing a lot more than you might think.

[h/t Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

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Roomba/Amazon

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Video games

Nintendo

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BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

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Microsoft/Amazon

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Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

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Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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The Great Tryptophan Lie: Eating Turkey Does Not Make You Tired

H. Armstrong Roberts/iStock via Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/iStock via Getty Images

While you’re battling your kids for the best napping spot after Thanksgiving dinner, feel free to use this as a diversion tactic: It’s a myth that eating turkey makes you tired.

It’s true that turkey contains L-Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleep. Your body uses it to produce a B vitamin called niacin, which generates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which yields the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your sleeping patterns. However, plenty of other common foods contain comparable levels of tryptophan, including other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.

Furthermore, in order for tryptophan to produce serotonin in your brain, it first has to make it across the blood-brain barrier, which many other amino acids are also trying to do. To give tryptophan a leg up in the competition, it needs the help of carbohydrates. Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer told WebMD that the best way to boost serotonin is to eat a small, all-carbohydrate snack a little while after you’ve eaten something that contains tryptophan, and the carbs will help ferry the tryptophan from your bloodstream to your brain.

But Thanksgiving isn’t exactly about eating small, well-timed snacks. It’s more about heaps of mashed potatoes, mountains of stuffing, and generous globs of gravy—and that, along with alcohol, is more likely the reason you collapse into a spectacular food coma after your meal. Overeating (especially of foods high in fat) means your body has to work extra hard to digest everything. To get the job done, it redirects blood to the digestive system, leaving little energy for anything else. And since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it also slows down your brain and other organs.

In short, you can still hold turkey responsible for your Thanksgiving exhaustion, but you should make sure it knows it can share the blame with the mac and cheese, spiked apple cider, and that second piece of pumpkin pie.

[h/t WebMD]