"Who should be the leader?" Infants' representation of leadership roles

2018 edition

JesĂşs Bas

Infants represent leader-follower relationships at very early stages of development (Bas, J. et al, in prep.). However, what intuitions do infants have about who should be the leader?

There are two different ways of assigning social status to agents in a group: dominance and prestige. It has been shown that infants understand both systems (Bas, J. & Sebastián-Gallés, N., under review; Mascaro, O. & Csibra, G., 2012). Given that social status drives concepts of leadership, here we compare whether being the dominant agent or the prestigious agent helps infants predict the emergence of the leader role.

We recorded 18-month-olds’ eye gaze as they watched short animations, in which one observer agent watches another two agents successfully pick up a ball individually. However, when these two agents both want to pick it up at the same time, only one of them prevails (always the same agent). Critically we manipulated how the winner prevailed, through communication (prestige) or using force (dominance). After this familiarization, the observer agent chooses to follow one of the other agents – either the “winner” or “loser” of the ball task.

We measured infants’ anticipation preceding the observer agent’s choice of who to follow, and the total looking time after the observer agent makes its decision. The analyses using both measures indicate that infants expect the observer to select as a leader the prestigious winner but not the dominant one. These results evidences that i) infants link the success with the leadership ii) but realize that not all ways to succeed are equal.

We will discuss the theoretical implications of these conclusions and the necessary next steps in the study of infants’ social cognition, specifically in how they understand hierarchical relationships.