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December 16, 2020 Wednesday 03:30:26 PM IST

Babies' random choices become their preferences

Parent Interventions

When a baby reaches for one stuffed animal in a room filled with others just like it, that seemingly random choice is very bad news for those unpicked toys: the baby has likely just decided she doesn't like what she didn't choose. Findings from Johns Hopkins University indicate that even babies engage in this phenomenon, suggesting that this way of justifying choice is intuitive and somehow fundamental to the human experience. People assume they choose things that they like, but the new research suggests that's sometimes backward: We like things because we choose them, and we dislike things that we don't choose.

This makes sense for adults in a consumer culture who must make arbitrary choices every day, between everything from toothpaste brands to makes of cars to styles of jeans. The question  was when exactly people start doing this. So they turned to babies, who don't get many choices. The team brought 10- to 20-month-old babies into the lab and gave them a choice of objects to play with: two equally bright and colorful soft blocks.

They set each block far apart, so the babies had to crawl to one or the other—a random choice. After the baby chose one of the toys, the researchers took it away and came back with a new option. The babies could then pick from the toy they didn't play with the first time, or a brand new toy. In follow-up experiments, when the researchers instead chose which toy the baby would play with, the phenomenon disappeared entirely. If you take the element of choice away, the phenomenon goes away.


(Content Courtesy: Jill Rosen, https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/10/02/babies-prefer-what-they-choose-even-when-random/)

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