Even toddlers know when they are being judged, according to science
They may still be learning to speak – but toddlers as young as 14 months are already aware that they may be judged by others, according to new research.
Scientists say children are sensitive to the opinions of those around them and will modify their behaviour accordingly when being watched.
While previous research has documented this behaviour in four to five-year-olds, the team from Emory University in the US say they have demonstrated that the awareness emerges much earlier than thought.
The researchers carried out experiments involving 144 children between the ages of 14 and 24 months using a remotely controlled robot toy.
They found that children showed more inhibition or embarrassment when using the remote to control the robot when being watched.
Further experiments revealed that when given a choice between positive and negative associations with remote controls, the toddlers showed a preference towards “positive remote significantly more while being watched and used the negative remote more when not being watched”.
Lead researcher Sara Valencia Botto, a PhD student at Emory University, said: “We’ve shown that by the age of 24 months, children are not only aware that other people may be evaluating them, but that they will alter their behaviour to seek a positive response.”
Study co-author Philippe Rochat, a professor of psychology at Emory University who specialises in childhood development, said: “There is something specifically human in the way that we’re sensitive to the gaze of others, and how systematic and strategic we are about controlling that gaze.
“At the very bottom, our concern for image management and reputation is about the fear of rejection, one of the main engines of the human psyche.”
The team say further research is needed to see if younger children, ie, those under 14 months, could be sensitive to the judgments of others.
The findings have been published in the journal Developmental Psychology.