The ability to tell friend from foe could mean the difference between life and death—particularly if you’re the hero in a spy thriller. Of course, being a good judge of character also comes in handy in real life, when you have to, say, purchase a used car. Still, it may surprise you to learn that even six-month-old babies can spot a villain.
Researchers at Yale University have found that infants can evaluate individuals on the basis of their action toward others. The results appear in the November 22nd issue of Nature. In their setup, six- and ten-month olds watched as wooden shapes with googlie eyes interacted on a board in front of them. One shape, a red circle, would try to make it up a hill. Then a different shape, a yellow triangle or a blue square, would come along and either bump the circle to the top, or shove it back down.
After a series of viewings, the babies were asked which shape they’d like to play with, the triangle or the square. In the case of the six-month-olds, every baby reached for the shape that was shown helping the circle rather than hindering it. (For some reason two of the older babies preferred the jerk.) Still, that’s pretty impressive villain-spotting, considering none of the shapes was wearing a black hat or had a handlebar moustache.