Is your child a fussy eater? They’re only copy­ing you!

Fiji Sun - - Sun Spectrum -

Santa Bar­bara: You may de­spair at your chil­dren’s fussy eat­ing habits. But new re­search shows par­ents are to blame. Chil­dren for­mu­late their views about food by watch­ing adults and gaug­ing how to re­act, ac­cord­ing to psy­chol­o­gists at UC Santa Bar­bara.

To get chil­dren rel­ish­ing broc­coli, par­ents should lead by ex­am­ple from day one, the study says.

“Eat­ing is a very so­cial ac­tiv­ity,” lead au­thor Dr Zoe Liber­man, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in brain sci­ences, said.

“It’s not only about what you’re eat­ing, it’s about who you’re with and how the peo­ple you eat with might in­flu­ence your food choices.” Though ba­bies may seem happy to put any­thing in their mouths - whether it is food, mud, or dish­washer soap - the re­search shows in­fants are more so­cially in­tel­li­gent than pop­u­lar opin­ion has it. They will eat more when other peo­ple are eat­ing with them. And they cre­ate happy mem­o­ries about foods eaten with pos­i­tive, fun peo­ple who cre­ate a fun ex­pe­ri­ence. These small ex­pe­ri­ences build up to for­mu­late an adult’s highly com­plex taste pal­ette and ap­proach to food in later life. Dr Liber­man and her team landed on their con­clu­sion af­ter study­ing 32 chil­dren, aged just over one year old, as they watched a movie. The movie fea­tured two ac­tors who were eat­ing dif­fer­ent kinds of food and dis­cussing their opin­ion of a bowl. They would be highly-ex­pres­sive to demon­strate when they liked some­thing or dis­liked some­thing. The tod­dlers did not seem to care when the ac­tors dis­agreed about the bowl. But when they dis­agreed about the food, the tod­dlers were con­fused and watched in­tently as the con­ver­sa­tion played out. “A main find­ing from this re­search is that ba­bies learn­ing about food is fun­da­men­tally so­cial,” Liber­man ex­plained. “When they see some­one eat a food, they can use the per­son’s re­ac­tion to the food to learn about the food it­self, such as whether it is ed­i­ble, and also to learn about the peo­ple who are eat­ing the food. In fact, the study shows they can even dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween peo­ple who speak dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and ex­pect them to agree with other peo­ple in their group. For ex­am­ple, when a child sees an English-speaker shun Brus­sels sprouts, they will ex­pect other English speak­ers to do the same. But they will not as­sume Span­ish speak­ers agree. The find­ings should en­cour­age pub­lic health of­fi­cials to pro­mote the im­por­tance of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion in kids’ nu­tri­tion, not just the nu­tri­tional value of food.

Though ba­bies may seem happy to put any­thing in their mouths - whether it is food, mud, or dish­washer soap - the re­search shows in­fants are more so­cially in­tel­li­gent than we think.

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