by Rideeta Raquib
The dilemma of what to eat for dinner is a peculiar evolutionary trait that has enabled human beings to survive for centuries. Culture and our social surroundings are aspects that influence our species when it comes to our preference in food. A recent study from Dr. Zoe Liberman and her team at the University of Chicago has revealed that infants have managed to associate the type of food being consumed to the consumer and their social environment. Babies have a perception that if two people speak the same language, they are likely to have similar food preferences. Despite their social upbringing, children view the emotion of “disgust” as a universal attribute. Thus, when a person expresses dislike towards a particular food, infants tend to associate that expression to the food being potentially dangerous. This instinct enables children to steer clear from consuming harmful ingredients.
The study involved 14-month-old infants and their observations when a movie was played in front of them. The movie involved two actors who expressed differing viewpoints when they interacted with Bowl A and Bowl B: the first actor liked the food from the bowls and the second actor disliked them (the food condition). In addition, there was also an object condition where they expressed the same emotions towards empty bowls. Infant observation spans were recorded for a minimum of two consecutive seconds. If the infant tended to generalize people having the same taste in foods, they would not pay attention to the scene until the second actor disagreed with the first. This change in attitude of the actors, promoted the infant to watch the scene longer than the minimum duration of two consecutive seconds. An interesting discovery made from this research was that monolingual babies tended to think that if two people spoke different languages, their preference in food differed as well. Contrary to this discovery, bilingual babies believed that food preferences were the same among people speaking diverse languages.
Overall, this study provided the opposing attitudes towards food selection among adults and infants. Adults tend to value aspects, such as nutrition, taste, and the amount of calories, while babies view food more as a social matter. Thus, parents should think twice before feeding their babies, because the types of food babies receive will impact their preferences.
- Liberman, et al., Early emerging system for reasoning about the social nature of food. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2016).