17 Jul 2015

Co-operating babies could save the world

12:29 pm on 17 July 2015

Research indicates that children as young as nine months show signs of co-operation.

babies playing together (stock photo)

Photo: 123RF

The Auckland University research has found that if children are trained to co-operate, they will be better at it.

Dr Annette Henderson wants to determine whether co-operative skills learnt in infancy affect behaviour later in childhood.

She has been teaching babies to co-operate and then following them periodically to see if their skills are more advanced than their non-trained peers.

So far, it appears they are.

Her Marsden Fund-backed research has looked at 300 children from birth to three years old.

So far, about 150 children have taken part in the research, and Dr Henderson said evidence of co-operation showed from nine to 10 months of age.

For a baby, it is all about visual cues: does a baby who has acted out an activity recognise co-operation when shown it repeatedly on a DVD?

Dr Henderson said they did. She said rolling a ball to a baby and them rolling it back was one of the earliest signs of this.

When they were older, co-operation was demonstrated by sharing or reacting to a person's needs, for example by giving a blanket to someone who was cold.

Dr Henderson said learning to co-operate could eventually help solve some of the world's biggest issues.

One of the best things to do to encourage your child to be more co-operative was to do lots of turn-taking games, she advised.

The research also included genetic sampling. Dr Henderson was not expecting to find a "co-operation gene", but said there might be similarities in biological markers.

While her research is only funded for zero to three year olds, Dr Henderson said she hoped for more funding so that she could follow the children to school and see if the skills remained, and whether teachers could notice a difference.