Is a child truly able to recognise whether you share a strong emotional bond with someone or not? Most likely your guess would be that it is not possible to notice something like this until you are older. So you will probably be surprised to find out that a toddler can often easily work it out based on a really special sign.
Can you imagine wanting to lick ice cream after a complete stranger has done so? Or feeling comfortable eating from their plate? We are pretty sure that you cannot. But if it was your partner or maybe your parents, it would most likely not cause you a problem. And this is exactly the sign that toddlers, even at their young age, are able to perceive.
Toddlers are able to register saliva exchange
If you assumed that toddlers determined the strength of their bond, for example, based on the tone you use in talking to someone or the frequency of touch, you would be wrong.
The research, which was published in Science on Thursday, found that the sign that children register most clearly in this regard is saliva exchange.
Puppet show as part of the research
Making scientific discoveries about the youngest of children is never easy. For example, a toddler, naturally, is still unable to express their thoughts or feelings with any clarity, and scientists have to find other ways to uncover this information. However, they also succeeded in this case, and they invited an ordinary puppet to help them, through the use of which they put on an interesting performance for the toddlers.
The scientific team created several videos. The first of them was about a woman who bit off a piece of orange, then "fed" a puppet with it and then bit off the same piece again. She shared the same slice of fruit with the puppet, thus exchanging their saliva.
The second video showed another woman playing with the same puppet and handing it a ball. So both women were in close contact with it, but in the second case, there was no exchange of saliva.
The researchers then began showing another video to the toddlers, which looked like this: there was a crying puppet in the middle, with the women mentioned above on the left and right. What the research team focused on was which woman the toddlers looked at first and which one they looked at longer.
Thus, this research replicated an ancient experiment with monkeys, where it was found that when a little monkey heard other cubs crying, it looked at its mother in the expectation that it would come to the rescue immediately.
After this information, you probably won't be surprised to hear that the toddlers first looked at the woman who had shared the food with the puppet, and that they looked at her for much longer than the one who had previously played with the puppet. They automatically assumed that this woman had a stronger bond with the puppet.
However, in order for the Harvard scientific team to verify their findings, the toddlers underwent another puppet experiment. Again, there were two different women.
One of them put her finger in her mouth, turned it over, and then placed it on the puppet's mouth. The other did the same, but placed her finger on the puppet's forehead. Subsequently, the whole procedure with a crying puppet was repeated, but the result was identical. The children paid more attention to the woman who had put her finger on the puppet's mouth, because they perceived that she had exchanged saliva with it.
Based on this interesting research, they were able to confirm that if your toddler sees you kissing someone on the mouth or sharing food with them, they will readily consider this the manifestation of the deepest form of emotional bond.