Big thinkers

first_imgPsychologists at Harvard University have found that infants younger than a year old understand social dominance and use relative size to predict who will prevail when two individuals’ goals conflict. The finding is presented this week in the journal Science.Lead author Lotte Thomsen says the work suggests that we may be born with — or develop at a very early age — some understanding of social dominance and how it relates to relative size, a correlation ubiquitous across human cultures and the animal kingdom. This potentially innate knowledge may help infants face the formidable challenge of learning the structure of their social environment, specifying ways of recognizing who is socially dominant in their particular culture.“Traditional kings and chieftains sit on large, elevated thrones and wear elaborate crowns or robes that make them look bigger than they really are, and subordinates often bow or kneel to show respect to superior humans and gods,” says Thomsen, a research fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Copenhagen. “Many animals, like birds and cats, will puff themselves up to look physically larger to an adversary, and prostrate themselves to demonstrate submission, like dogs do. Our work suggests that even with limited socialization, preverbal human infants may understand such displays.”Thomsen and colleagues at Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), studied the reactions of infants ranging from 8 to 16 months old as they watched videos of interactions between cartoon figures of various sizes.“Since preverbal infants can’t be interviewed, their experiences and expectations must be assessed by their behavior,” Thomsen says. “Infants tend to watch longer when something surprises them. So we can test hypotheses about what they expect by measuring how long they look at scenarios that either violate or confirm their expectations.”The researchers showed infants videos depicting a large and a small block with eyes and mouth bouncing across a stage in opposite directions. Next, infants watched the two blocks meet in the middle, impeding one another’s progress. They then saw either the large or the small block bow and step aside, deferring to the other.“As predicted by our theory, the infants watched much longer when a large agent yielded to a smaller one,” Thomsen says. On average, the babies watched this unexpected outcome for 20 seconds, compared with just 12 seconds when a smaller character made way for a larger one.In a follow-up experiment, Thomsen and her co-authors found that 8-month-old infants failed to grasp the significance of the larger block deferring to the smaller one. But those who were 10 to 16 months old consistently demonstrated surprise at depictions of a larger individual yielding to a smaller one, suggesting that this conceptual understanding develops between 8 and 10 months of age.Two other follow-ups showed that infants’ reactions were not simply caused by the expectation that smaller individuals tend to fall over in general, including in situations that do not involve conflicting goals.“Understanding what makes humans’ rich conceptual repertoire possible is one of the formidable challenges of cognitive science,” says co-author Susan Carey, the Henry A. Morss Jr. and Elisabeth W. Morss Professor of Psychology at Harvard. “Part of meeting this challenge is specifying the initial state: What representational resources are infants born with that enable further learning? Our work shows that, apparently, infants come prepared to understand abstract aspects of their social world.”In recent decades, scientists have learned that the infant mind creates abstract representations of intuitive physics, psychology, and mathematics. It has also been shown that young infants account for aspects of the social world, such as tracking whether other agents help or hinder third parties. These representations constitute part of what babies need in order to understand collaboration and cooperation in the world.“The studies we report here are the first to show that young infants also understand events where agents have conflicting goals, and have ways of predicting which of two agents will prevail,” Carey says.Thomsen and Carey’s co-authors on the Science paper are Willem E. Frankenhuis at UCLA and McCaila Ingold-Smith at Harvard. Their work was sponsored by Harvard, the National Institutes of Health, the Winkler Foundation, and the Danish Council for Independent Research.last_img read more

Let the Trick-or-Treating Begin: Halloween Gains Foothold in India

first_imgMany an op-ed and satires have been written about the rise of Halloween in India. Most of them express curiosity, some absolute bemusement and some horror at a trend they are attributing to a generation growing up on American sitcoms like Friends and How I Met Your Mother, all of which have Halloween special episodes.However, for most NRIs who have returned to the country, it is a source of nostalgia for a festival they used to celebrate with aplomb during their stay abroad. Preetha J Sebastian, a graduate student in Bengaluru who now studies in Dartmouth, grew up in a thriving community in Dubai where trick-or-treating became an essential part of her childhood. “I wore the same witch costume every year,” she told Little India.The apartment complex Sebastian lived in while working in Bengaluru, to her delight, celebrated the festival. “When Halloween came around, it became harder to be an adult. I had to be the one buying candy to give away to the neighborhood kids, which was a harsh reality to face. Some of the children didn’t even dress up! But, eventually, I found joy in giving away candy. I was too big to fit into my child-size witch costume anyway.”Sebastian’s condominium complex was not the only one honoring the spirit of the dead. Shruti Narayanan, a dancer based in Bengaluru, says her community, which is a home to a lot of expats and returned NRIs like herself, celebrates Halloween every year. “There is constant merriment because you can hear the kids and teenagers running around and saying trick or treat,” she says. But the children only ask only at houses that have print-outs stuck outside saying, “Sweetmeats available,” since many Indian families in the neighborhood don’t get the concept and don’t celebrate the occasion.Agrees Suman Kumar, a stand-up comedian who is looking to buy a zombie costume for his daughter this year, “Some families just don’t know the idea behind the festival,” he says, recounting how his neighbor just looked at kids blankly when they asked him for a trick or treat. “What he understood was that they wanted chocolates, which he gave them,” Kumar says.Preetha J Sebastian as Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.Lakshmi Selvakumaran, who did her Ph.D. in Saudi Arabia, recalls her experience of confused India families who did not have a stock of candies ready. “They end up giving the children leftover Diwali sweets or gulab jamuns just because someone has come to their house,” she says.Narayanan attributes the confusion to just the lack of knowledge among Indians about the Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating, which involves a threat made by the child, about whether the hosts would like mischief or to give them a treat. “Some houses here don’t even want to bother opening the door,” she reveals. “So what they do instead is fill a pot with chocolates or toffee and leave it outside for kids to come and take.”Even though themed parties are mushrooming in hotels and clubs in metropolitan cities in India, people generally don’t have much knowledge on why Halloween – All Hallows Eve — is celebrated, if at all. “Not many of them know that Halloween came from the earlier cultures of worshiping the dead,” says Ankur Huralikoppi, an engineer based in California, where he sees celebrations every year. “It was thought that spirits are fond of kids, and on that day pleasing kids meant keeping the spirits happy.”So while the occasion, which is observed the day before All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2, is a time to honor recently-departed souls who are yet to reach heaven, it has been overshadowed by the bonhomie associated with costumes and make-up. Says Sean Pereira, a business professional, “While the costume parties have caught on, Christians just go to mass and visit the graves of their loved ones.”And costume parties have caught on indeed. Every year, there is a new restaurant or bar holding a Halloween-theme night. Cafe Out of the Box in New Delhi has been hosting Halloween parties since 2010. Every year, they make signature cocktails, and name them according to the theme. For example, Dracula’s Blood is a Bloody Mary with a twist. “We usually play around with our interiors, try to make it look spooky,” Priyank Sukhija, the cafe’s owner, told IANS in an earlier interview. “The turnout has always been huge with a mix crowd, including expats.”Not to be left behind, The Junction in Haus Khas Village in the Indian capital, is hosting a warehouse party this year with a mental asylum-themed decor with prizes for the “spookiest” dressed person. In Mumbai, Halloween is an opportunity for people to party, with many hotels hosting DJ nights, from the Taj to the Marriott.Bengaluru, on the other hand, which has a thriving community of expats and returned NRIs, sees Halloween parties at every nook and corner of the city. Advertising professional Aakanksha Bhattacharya was a regular at such parties while she lived in Mumbai, and is looking forward to having more fun now that she is moved to Bengaluru.While Arbor Brewing Company in the city has been hosting a party every year with themed menu and drinks, the newer pub Koramangala Social will organize its first themed party for Halloween this year. Harry Potter, more often than not, is a staple costume for a lot of people, says Samrudhi Sridharan, a researcher for an NGO based in the city. “I dress up as Hermione Granger every year. It is the easiest costume to put together and it is a character I relate to.”It doesn’t seem to matter that Halloween is a festival that has no roots in India: it is another opportunity to get together, to dress up, albeit in spooky costumes or even more interesting, as characters, and for children to enjoy sweets. It sounds like an alternate version of our own Indian festivals, doesn’t it? Related ItemsHalloween BangaloreHalloween DelhiHalloween in IndiaHalloween MumbaiHalloween NRIsHalloween parties IndiaLittle Indialast_img read more