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ERC-European Research Council (ERC)

Which building blocks for coordinating resource distribution are so basic that they manifest even in infancy?

Tildelt: kr 15,2 mill.






2022 - 2027


COORDINATE will do political psychology with infants to reveal meaningful mechanisms for coordinating resource distribution so basic that they manifest even in the preverbal mind. The distribution of resources, help, territory and priority decision rights are central dilemmas for group-living species and the core of politics. Navigating these dilemmas, young children must discover the structure of their social world: who is friend or foe, superior or subordinate, and what does this mean for how people interact? To solve this learnability problem, I argue that early- and reliably-developing core representations and motives have evolved for navigating basic kinds of social relationships with critical adaptive value. Consistent with this theoretical proposal, I discovered that preverbal human infants mentally represent social dominance and, like other animals, use relative size to predict the outcome of zero-sum conflict, spawning a new field of research (Thomsen et al, 2011, Science). However, human society is also defined by reciprocity and by distributing resources according to need, effort and prior possession, yet it remains unknown if these coordination mechanism are inscribed already in the preverbal mind. Here, we test the high-risk proposals that 1) preverbal infants expect direct reciprocity to govern resource donations; 2) infants and preschoolers use gratitude to predict the future reciprocal altruism of others; 3) infants also use asymmetries of prior possession, hunger need and relative effort to predict who will prevail in resource conflict; 4) that beyond the dyadic and triadic relationships typically studied in the field, preschoolers and preverbal infants use the abstract structural forms of pyramidal hierarchy, clique and lines to represent the group relationships of social hierarchy, communality and equality, respectively. These mechanisms likely operate intuitively across life and so we will test if they undergird political ideology and -psychology


ERC-European Research Council (ERC)