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A new study finds infants can discern between leaders and bullies
A new study finds even babies can discern who leads and who bullies.
Researchers have just discovered that infants can determine the difference between a bully who coerces people into obedience and a leader who utilizes respect to encourage people to follow them. They also found that the infants have certain expectations of what people facing bullies or leaders will do next.
Even infants know a good leader when they see one
Francesco Margoni, a postdoc at the University of Trento, professor Luca Surian at Trento, and professor Renée Baillargeon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign carried out the study with a group of 21-month-old children using a series of cartoons.
The first test's cartoons showed a bully coercing other characters into action and then featured a respected leader instructing people to do the same thing.
The cartoons indicated that the bully was mean and that the leader was respected before any other action took place. The bully was identified by showing them striking the characters and stealing their ball, while the leader was bowed to and given the ball as a gift.
The cartoon introduced the leader or bully (yellow) by showing them either being respected by the red characters or attacking them with a stick. The first test featured a large headdress on the yellow figure which was removed or altered for later tests. (Margoni et al. provided by Dr. Baillargeon)
The second half of the cartoon showed the characters going to bed, as the bully or leader told them to do. The bully or leader then left. The cartoons then either showed the remaining characters staying in bed or getting up as soon as the authority figure was gone.
For the test, the yellow figure, now identified as a leader or bully, would command the red characters to go to bed. After the yellow figure left, the red characters would either continue to obey or immediately go back to playing. The responses of the children varied accordingly. (Margoni et al. provided by Dr. Baillargeon)
In studies such as this one, the very young children tend to look longer at an unexpected event before their attention span gives out—as opposed to an expected happening. By comparing how long they spend looking at each cartoon, the researchers can determine what the toddlers were expecting to happen.
As predicted, the infants expected the characters sent to bed by a leader to continue to obey after the leader was gone and paid more attention to the case where they left bed immediately. They were equally as interested in both cases with the bully, however. This suggests that they thought both outcomes were plausible as it was reasonable to take steps to avoid being hit again.
Size doesn’t matter
A second experiment was undertaken to confirm the first, and account for issues of interpretation. Since it is known that infants expect larger individuals to win confrontations, the headdresses of the leader and bully were removed to assure that the larger size of the characters didn’t influence the infants’ expectations.
The results were the same; the children expected a leader to be obeyed in their absence and were split on their expectations on if a bully would be obeyed or not after they left. It suggested that the children were able to distinguish the difference between the two based on behavioral cues and had different conceptions of how they acquired and used power.
It’s nothing personal
The final test sought to prove that power dynamics were the key factor in the infants’ expectations by removing the behavioral cues that one character was a leader and one was a bully and replacing them by showing all the characters positively or negatively interacting before the command to go to bed was given.
To determine if the children were thinking that the obedience to the bully was based on an expectation of further harm in the previous tests, the character who they negatively interacted with, essentially still a bully, remained on screen after ordering them to bed in this test.
It was found that the infants expected the characters to leave bed the moment the character who they positively interacted with went away. They also, however, fully expected the characters to stay in bed when the bully was still present on the screen. This supported the idea that the children who expected the characters to obey the absent bully in previous tests supposed that they might come back.
What does it all mean?
Infants expected cartoon characters to obey a leader they respected and were surprised when they did not. They only partly expected the characters to obey a bully, suggesting that while they understood that the characters didn’t respect the bully that they also grasped the idea of continuing to obey out of fear the bully might return.
It seems that if you want people to follow you even when you're gone, respect works better than fear. Take that, Machiavelli.
What does this mean for how we view authority?
The study suggests that even very young children have an idea of legitimate authority and expect people to do what authority figures tell them. The idea that we have an innate moral psychology and that an understanding of authority is part of it remains a controversial topic.
Johnathan Haidt has written on the subject extensively and suggested it exists. Others disagree, suggesting that our minds are more like blank slates and that any understanding of authority we have must be learned.
The researchers summarized their findings on the matter:
“…our finding that infants expect leaders to be obeyed supports the prior claim by social scientists (e.g., Alan Fiske, Haidt and Graham) that the basic structure of human moral cognition includes a principle of authority: When an individual is acknowledged as a legitimate authority figure by a group, expectations come into play about how the authority figure should act toward the subordinates (e.g., maintain order), and about how the subordinates should act toward the authority figure (e.g., obey their directives). By demonstrating that infants can identify a respect-based leader and expect subordinates to obey this leader, we are one step closer to demonstrating that a principle of authority is indeed part of the basic structure of human moral cognition and emerges early in life.”
After suggesting that these expectations might be innate, the authors then note that “it becomes particularly interesting to look at world leaders today and see whether or not they meet these expectations…”
So, how can I use this?
Dr. Baillargeon suggests that parents can use the findings to reframe their approach when trying to deal with their children’s bad behavior. Comparing the finding that infants grasp the concept of authority figures to our understanding that they grasp the idea of fairness, she explains that:
“Infants do not need to be taught that authority figures should be obeyed, but they may need to be helped to keep their self-interest in check so they respond to authority figures as they should. In other words, infants understand something about how authority figures should be treated, and about the obedience that is owed to them, and this is something that parents and caregivers can build on when interacting with children, by reminding them of what they already know.”
It seems like an understanding of the differences between leadership and bullying develop at a young age and that infants have certain expectations of how people should react to them. The findings support the idea that our minds are structured in a way that innately includes an understanding of authority. While questions of how far the findings of this study go remain open, the study gives us great insights into how our moral psychology develops.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.