Young toddlers may form strong attachments through interactions such as sharing pieces of food or kissing.
Young children are constantly observant. According to a study, this includes instances where people exchange spit while doing things like sharing meals, which may aid young children in figuring out who is in close connections with whom.
Generally speaking, people are more likely to share things with their family or close friends as opposed to an acquaintance or coworker, such as kisses or an ice cream cone, that could result in an interchange of saliva.
According to Ashley Thomas, a developmental psychologist at MIT, personal acts that involve sharing saliva might be indicators of a deep relationship, or people who have long-lasting bonds to one another, such as parents, siblings, extended family, or best friends.
Children in their early years are prone to observing social cues from those around them. In order to determine whether children, especially infants and toddlers, might use saliva sharing as a cue for close relationships, Thomas and colleagues turned to studies in which participants interacted with puppets.
Children as young as 8 months old were more inclined to stare at an adult who had previously shared saliva with the puppet — either directly or through sharing food — than another adult who hadn’t, according to the team’s research in Science.
Of course, scientists cannot fully understand what infants are thinking. But one way to gain an indication is to observe where they gaze.
According to Thomas, the intention is not for small children to expect an adult to console the puppet. Instead, she explains, the researchers anticipated that the young children would turn toward the person they would anticipate moving first when the puppet exhibits distress—that is, the person who is more intimately connected to the toy.
The researchers played recordings of a woman sharing an orange slice with a puppet to newborns aged 8 to 10 months or toddlers aged 16 to 18 months. Another woman and the puppet were shown playing with a ball in a different video.
The children’s attention were pulled to the woman who had shared the orange slice in a final video that showed the puppet appearing to cry while sat between the two ladies, suggesting the young ones may have been anticipating her response.
When one woman engaged with two puppets, the researchers observed comparable outcomes. To share her saliva with one of the puppets, the woman put her finger in both of their mouths. She merely touched her forehead on the second one before doing the same on the puppet. Infants and young children spend more time staring at the puppet after the woman began to cry.
Saliva sharing was seen as a sign of intimate relationships by children who were older, between the ages of 5 and 7. Children of the age range assumed that while sharing toys or dividing meals might be family, sharing utensils or bites of food might be friends.
It’s unclear how the results apply to young children’s ordinary lives. To better understand the impact saliva may play in how infants and toddlers differentiate between different sorts of connections, future trials might replace the actresses in the study with family members or teachers. According to Thomas, other signs like hugging may also be important.
The study did not compare results across cultures and solely looked at kids living in the United States.
Darby Saxbe, a clinical developmental psychologist and co-director of the University of Southern California Center for the Changing Family in Los Angeles, nevertheless finds the results to be intriguing. She adds it would be interesting to find out how children from ethnic groups with various dietary or hygiene customs respond to similar circumstances.