Representation of stable social dominance relations by human infants

TitleRepresentation of stable social dominance relations by human infants
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsMascaro, O., and G. Csibra
Journal titleProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

What are the origins of humans’ capacity to represent social relations? We approached this
question by studying human infants’ understanding of social dominance as a stable relation.
We presented infants with interactions between animated agents in conflict situations. Studies
1 and 2 targeted expectations of stability of social dominance. They revealed that 15-montholds
(and to a lesser extent 12-month-olds) expect an asymmetric relationship between two
agents to remain stable from one conflict to another. To do so, infants need to infer that one of
the agents (the dominant) will consistently prevail when her goals conflict with those of the
other (the subordinate). Study 3 and 4 targeted the format of infants’ representation of social
dominance. In these studies, we found that 12- and 15-month-olds did not extend their
expectations of dominance to unobserved relationships, even when they could have been
established by transitive inference. This suggests that infants' expectation of stability
originates from their representation of social dominance as a relationship between two agents
rather than as an individual property. Infants’ demonstrated understanding of social
dominance reflects the cognitive underpinning of humans’ capacity to represent social
relations, which may be evolutionarily ancient, and may be shared with non-human species.

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