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Babies display empathy for bullied victims as early as six months..(Photo by: PXHERE)
Israeli study: Babies are able to identify figures who ‘deserve’ empathy
"Babies are able to identify figures who 'deserve' empathy and [those who] do not," Dr. Florina Uzefovsky said.
Babies as young as six months old display preference for characters who have been bullied, according to a recent study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But the infants are less attracted to those who are distressed for seemingly no reason.

Previous research demonstrated that infants six months old and younger display antagonistic reactions to bullies, but the question of whether they harbor positive attitudes toward victims remained largely unexplored.

Dr. Florina Uzefovsky from BGU and Dr. Maayan Davidov and Yael Paz from Hebrew University collaborated on a study to determine whether the infants display pro-victim preferences.
The research, published in the British Journal of Psychology, involved a two-part experiment: In the first study, 30 infants between five and nine months of age were shown two video clips: one that featured a distressed character who had been physically harmed by another character, and a second that featured a neutral character who interacted amicably with another character.
When asked to choose between the two characters, more than 80% of the babies chose the bullied victim.

The infants didn’t always prefer the distressed character, however. In the second experiment, the researchers showed 28 infants videos of the distressed and non-distressed characters displaying the exact same emotions as in the first video, but without presenting the aggressor or companion of the previous clips. In this experiment, only about one-third of the babies indicated their preference for the victim, whereas the remainder chose the non-distressed character.

“Babies are able to identify figures who ‘deserve’ empathy and [those who] do not,” said Uzefovsky, head of the BGU Bio-Empathy Lab and a senior lecturer in BGU’s department of psychology and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience.

The study provides increasing evidence of infants’ capacity to empathize before one year of life, but also deepens psychologists’ understanding of the variegated circumstances that trigger that empathy.

“The findings indicate that even during a baby’s first year, the infant is already sensitive to others’ feelings and can draw complicated conclusions about the context of a particular emotional display,” Uzefovsky said. But “if it appears that there is no justification for the other one’s distress, no preference is shown.”
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