A recent German study suggests that young children are able to tell the difference between a person who is genuinely upset about something that's worth being upset about and a person who's just whining. Not only could the study's young subjects differentiate between real problems and fake problems, they also demonstrated way less sympathy for histrionics because kids are sick of grown-up bullshit.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, observed 24 girls and 24 boys, ages 36 months to 39 months, interacting with two adults who would feign sadness after experiencing "genuine" injustices, as well as middling inconveniences. For example, one adult would drop a box lid on another adult's hand (an example of genuine injustice in a child's simple little world), thereby eliciting sympathy from the observing child. In another scenario, one adult withheld marbles from another, an instance of unevenly distributed resources that children showed far less patience for.
According to Max Planck researcher Robert Hepach, the study's findings suggest that very young children can evaluate how reasonable a person's "distressed reaction is to a particular incident or situation" and measure out the right dose of sympathy. Not only that, but if a person establishes a good precedent for being generally pitiable, a child will offer them succor in the face of subsequent distress. In a follow up scenario, one of the sad-sack adults was given one balloon and a child was given two. When the adult "let go" of his balloon, a child was more eager to offer a palliative replacement if that adult had previously had his hand slammed in a box lid. If the adult hadn't been genuinely wronged in the first experiment, though, the child was more likely to just keep the balloons and teach the butterfingers adult a very important life lesson about helium.
Even toddlers can't stand whiners, study shows [LiveScience via MSNBC]
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