Relational aggression and torturing kids for science.

Yes, the title is tongue-in-cheek.

The still face experiment.

From the description:

Ed Tronick (, director of UMass Boston’s Infant-Parent Mental Health Program (…) and Distinguished Professor of Psychology, discusses the cognitive abilities of infants to read and react to their social surroundings. The video is an excerpt from Lovett Productions’ HELPING BABIES FROM THE BENCH: USING THE SCIENCE OF EARLY CHILDHOOD IN COURT.

Using the “Still Face” Experiment, in which a mother denies her baby attention for a short period of time, Tronick describes how prolonged lack of attention can move an infant from good socialization, to periods of bad but repairable socialization. In “ugly” situations the child does not receive any chance to return to the good, and may become stuck.


A number of thoughts come to mind as I listen to this.

1. I see this kind of behaviour in adults as well. Lack of responsiveness is not only an indicator of stress, but also a tool used in relational aggression.

2. I note that people with less facial responsiveness in general are often perceived to be “tougher” than those with articulate and responsive faces. Check out any Hollywood poster of super-heroes.

3. I don’t know if this is cultural or instinctive, but very often, women tend to have greater facial articulation and responsiveness, thus adding to the “I am vulnerable” aura.

4. I wonder if this is part of the complex of neoteny that often makes people, usually women, more attractive.

5. This brings home the level at which body language affects us all, as social creatures.

6. I have also frequently observed that humans instinctively raise the pitch of their voice when speaking to children or cute animals. I hypothesize that part of this might be to better match the hearing range, or, perhaps to enact more neonatal (small, so safe) traits.

7. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing! I’m fine!” is this a form of relational aggression? Of indirect and plausibly denial pseudo-violence? We know that some emotions use the same neural pathways as pain.

This following video adds to the previous one.
Toddlers regulate their behaviour to avoid making adults angry

“That’s aggravating! That’s so annoying!”

I wonder if this is the reason why Social Justice Warriors engage in the “I’m so offended!” behaviour. Could it be the use of instinctual behaviours as relational aggression? I don’t know, but I think that this has just disarmed one of the triggers that used to work with me.

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