For babies, saliva exchange is proof of closeness – Sciences et Avenir

Sharing an ice cream cone with someone may seem disgusting, unless it’s a parent, spouse, or your child: It’s also a way for babies to know if two people are close.

According to a study published in the journal Science, children are aware of these dynamics from a very young age, and consider the exchange of saliva -with a kiss, sharing food or wiping the corners of their lips- as proof of proximity. between two individuals.

“We know from a lot of research that babies are very sensitive to this social aspect of their world, but it hasn’t been known if they really pay attention to different kinds of relationships,” said Ashley Thomas, a researcher at Harvard and University. AFP.MIT.

With his colleagues, he wanted to know if children can distinguish, like adults, relationships between relatives, called “thick” by the philosopher Avishai Margalit, as opposed to more distant (“thin”) friendly relationships.

The team was inspired by experiments with monkeys who, upon hearing a distressed calf, turned to the mother expecting her to react.

He showed dozens of babies a video clip in which two young research assistants play with a puppet similar to those in the educational series “1, Sesame Street.”

The first bites into a slice of orange, then feeds it to the puppet before eating the rest of the slice. The second is content to play ball with the puppet.

“Both relationships are friendly, but adults can only consider one a close relationship,” explains Ashley Thomas.

– Create links –

The team then showed the babies a clip in which the puppet cries, surrounded by the two young scientists, studying which one they turn to first and for how long.

The babies also deduced that the one who exchanged their saliva for the orange was the closest to the puppet.

The two attendees, from different ethnic groups, played both roles in front of babies of various backgrounds and economic levels.

To make sure kids don’t see that exchanging saliva is naturally more enjoyable, Ashley Thomas did another experiment with a new crying puppet.

The babies did not look at the orange helper first, nor for longer.

Finally, in a third video, one actress stuck a finger in and twisted it into her mouth and then the puppet’s, while the other touched her forehead and then the puppet’s.

Again, the babies looked first at the one that had exchanged their saliva, isolating it as a marker.

These findings add to scientific understanding of how children approach social relationships, such as “children pay attention to people who are kind to others,” says Ashley Thomas.

“Babies pay attention not only to people’s behaviors … but also to their connections and the level of those,” he says.

These hypotheses have already been proposed by anthropologists.

Understanding person-to-person relationships can especially help those who struggle to bond, such as people with autism.

“They really want to create these links, but they just don’t have the tools to do it,” says the scientist.

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