Category: Developmental

Santa Is More Real Than Peter Pan: Children Have A “Hierarchy” Of Belief In Fictional Characters

By Emily Reynolds

The creeping realisation that Santa isn’t real can be a watershed moment — not quite an entry into adulthood, but certainly a step in its direction.

But “real” and “not real” are not the only two categories that children have when it comes to cultural figures, according to a new study in PLOS ONE. Rather than a black-and-white model, Rohan Kapitány and colleagues propose a “sensible hierarchy” of belief in various figures, finding that cultural rites and norms for those figures play a big part in its creation.

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Here’s How Our Personality Changes As We Age

By Emma Young

The once popular idea that our personality becomes “set like plaster” by the age of 30 has been refuted by studies showing that we do change —  and can even purposefully change ourselves. Many studies have identified shifts in Big Five traits across the lifespan. However, the often inconsistent results have made for ongoing controversy about how personality typically changes with age.

Now a new analysis of data from 16 longitudinal studies, with a total sample of more than 60,000 people from various countries, reveals some important insights. The work, published by Eileen Graham at Northwestern University, Chicago, and her colleagues in the European Journal of Personality Research, suggests that there are indeed some clear patterns of change through middle age and into older age for at least four of those five traits.

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School-Age Kids, But Not Preschoolers, Understand That Divulging A Friend’s Secret Could Damage The Friendship

By Emma Young

How many secrets have your friends shared with you? The answer could reveal a lot about your relationships. We not only share secrets with people we’re close to, but swap secrets to strengthen relationships. In my new novel, Here Lie the Secrets, I do use the sharing of deeply personal secrets to advance the relationship of my two main characters… However, as we also all know, discovering that a friend goes on to share your secret can seriously damage your relationship.

Secrets, then, have an important role in our social lives. But, asks Zoe Liberman at the University of California Santa Barbara, when do we become aware of this? To what extent do children understand the significance of secrets — and the consequences of spilling them? Her results, published in Developmental Psychology, suggest be that it would be unwise to trust a four-year-old with any kind of secret — but with an 8-year-old, you’re much more likely to be safe.

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Young Children Believe Intervening In Antisocial Behaviour Is A Universal Duty. Adults Don’t

By Emily Reynolds

When witnessing harmful behaviour, most of us hope for intervention of some kind: if we see someone receiving abuse on public transport, for example, it’s likely we want to see some action taken.

Who we want to intervene in such acts, however, is more divisive. Some believe social norms should be enforced by authorities, whilst others stress that responsibility should be shared amongst us all. An interesting example of this is the discussion around policing, with abolitionists arguing that much of the work done by the police would be better led by communities themselves.

Our politics may inform our stance — and according to a new study in Cognition from Julia Marshall and colleagues at Yale University, so might our age. The team finds that older children and adults tend to see norm enforcement as the responsibility of authorities, while younger children see that duty as universal.

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Children Can “Catch” Their Mother’s Stress — Particularly If She Tries To Hide It

By Emily Reynolds

The way parents feel and behave often rubs off on their children. Kids’ own life paths can be influenced by the strength of their parents’ romantic relationship, for example, or how often their parents lie to them.

We may also pick things up as our parents try to hide them, as new research published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests. Even when parents try to hide their stress, the team finds, they can still pass on those feelings to their children anyway.

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“Being Fun” Is An Important Marker Of Social Status Among Children

By Emma Young

When my 9-year-old has his best friend over to play, the house is filled with the sound of giggles. Yes, this friend plays fair, is outgoing and shares my son’s interests. But he’s also good fun.

Any parent knows that kids this age are obsessed with having fun (something that’s in short supply for many home-schoolers right now). And yet “being fun” has been overlooked as an indicator of a child’s social status, argue the authors of a new paper, published in the Journal of Personality. Their new studies are, they say, the first to establish it as a unique factor important for understanding social hierarchies among kids.

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Teenagers Who Believe They Are Particularly Intelligent Tend To Be More Narcissistic And Happier With Life

By Emily Reynolds

Though it may vary based on context or mood, most of us have a fairly steady belief in how intelligent we think we are. Whether that belief is in any way accurate or even helpful is a different question — one 2019 study found that people who were happier to admit they don’t know something actually had better general knowledge, whilst a survey from the year before found that the majority of Americans believed they were smarter than average. We’re also susceptible to the same foibles when it comes to those close to us, tending to rate our romantic partners as more intelligent than they actually are

But how early do our ideas about our own intelligence start, and how do they relate to other facets of our personality? In new research published in Personality and Individual Differences, Marcin Zajenkowski looks at just that.

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The Quality Of The Relationship Between Parents Can Shape Their Children’s Life Paths

By Emily Reynolds

Our relationship with our parents can have a big impact on our life trajectory. Research has found that those of us lied to by caregivers often end up less well-adjusted, that hard workers are more likely to produce children with good work ethics, that cognitive skills can be improved by having talkative parents, and that positive parenting can impact cortisol levels even years later.

But though we might pay less attention to it, how parents relate to one another is also important for children’s long-term development. A new study, published in Demography, has taken a look at affection within parental relationships, finding that loving spousal relationships can have a positive long-term impact on children’s life paths.

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This Weird, Sound-Induced Illusion Makes You Feel That Your Finger Has Grown Longer

By Emma Young

Adults are vulnerable to all kinds of body illusions. We can be made to feel that a fake hand, or even a fake body, is our own; that we’ve left our body; even that we’re the size of a doll. These illusions work because our brains use information from various senses to create mental representations of our bodies. Mess with some of these sensory signals, and you can alter those representations, sometimes drastically.

Work to date suggests that young children don’t show the same susceptibilities to body illusions, presumably because the systems that underpin them are still developing. Now a new study, published in Scientific Reports, has found that a bizarre auditory-induced illusion that affects adults doesn’t work in quite the same way in young kids, either.

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Bullies And Their Victims Show Different Patterns Of Brain Activity To Emotional Faces

By Emma Young

An estimated one quarter to one half of adolescents will at some point either be a victim of bullying, or engage in it — or both. Whether you’re on the receiving end, or dealing it out, there are all kinds of associated negative implications for mental health and well-being, including distress, depression and anxiety.  “This highlights an important need to understand the predictors of bullying and victimisation, in order to identify ways to reduce these experiences in adolescents,” write the researchers behind a new study, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. And this research has revealed one such factor: both bullies and victims show differences in the brain’s response to angry and fearful faces.

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