After watching the animation, the babies were again given a choice of two toys. Half could pick between the "victim" shape and the neutral shape, while the other half got to choose between the bullying shape and the neutral shape.
This time, 10 out of 12 babies given the neutral-or-bully option went with the neutral cylinder. Meanwhile, of the 12 given the neutral-or-victim option, 10 picked the victim.
In other words, even when there was no mean character present that a baby might want to avoid, the babies still picked the victim.
It goes too far to call this proof of sympathy, said Kiley Hamlin, an infant cognition researcher at the University of British Columbia who was not involved in the study. Nevertheless, Hamlin told LiveScience, the findings are "a great first step" in establishing the development of sympathy.
Previously, Hamlin has reported that babies as young as 8 months old prefer to see wrongdoers punished rather than treated nicely.
Brainy babies Some researchers have raised concerns about the kinds of animations used in infant cognition studies, arguing that babies might be marking their preferences based on extraneous information, like whether one character bounces or moves differently than the others.