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Surprising Science

Desire to Conform Starts by Age Two

Our desire to conform starts young. Despite our best efforts later on in life, by age two we’re already willing to hide our otherness away from our peers, according to researchers.

As early as two-years-old, kids start on their road to conformity, trying to fit in to society. Bret Stetka from Scientific American writes on the recent find that came from researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

They write that human toddlers learn early on that no one likes a show-off. So, even if they may have formulated a better way to go about doing something, they tend to copy peer behavior — no matter how wrong it may be. However, the same behavior was not seen in chimpanzees and orangutans.

The researchers set up the same test for a group of two-year-olds and apes. Each were given a box, divided into three sections. By dropping a ball into one of the sections, a reward was consistently released. Once the toddlers and the apes figured out the correct section, they were put on the sidelines to watch their untrained peers try to figure out the system, but a reward wouldn’t be released, even if they put the ball in the right part of the box. Then the roles were flipped. However, more than half the time, the toddlers would place the ball in the section they knew to yield a reward, mimicking their peers instead. On the other hand, the apes stuck with dropping the ball in the section that yielded rewards — unfazed by their onlooking novice peers.

It wasn’t that the toddlers forgot how to get the reward. When researchers removed their peers, the toddlers would resume placing the ball in the right section. This result has been interpreted by researchers as an instinct to conform to the majority — to hide something different — or it could just be they want more of the reward for themselves.

Stetka writes:

“The results suggest that the human desire to conform is inborn or at least develops at a very young age. This urge to conform probably evolved to be stronger than that of our ape cousins because group harmony was extremely important in growing hominin communities dependent on the exchange of cultural information, according to the authors.”

Read more at Scientific American.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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