Sunday, August 22, 2010

Terrible twos

One Virginia-based study nicely captured the style of terrible twos among boys who averaged 24 months in age (S. S. Brehm & Weintraub, 1977). The boys accompanied their mothers into a room containing two equally attractive toys. The toys were always arranged so that one stood next to a transparent Plexiglas barrier and the other stood behind the barrier. For some of the boys, the Plexiglas was only a foot high--forming no real barrier to the toy behind it, since the boys could easily reach over the top. For the other boys, however, the Plexiglas was 2 feet high, effectively blocking their access to one toy unless they went around the barrier. The researchers wanted to see how quickly the toddlers would make contact with the toys under these conditions. Their findings were clear. When the barrier was too short to restrict access to the toy behind it, the boys showed no special preference for either of the toys... When the barrier was high enough to be a true obstacle, however, the boys went directly to the obstructed toy, making contact with it three times faster than the unobstructed toy...

Two-year-old girls in this study did not show the same resistant response to the large barrier as did the boys. Another study suggested this to be the case not because girls don't oppose attempts to limit their freedoms. Instead, it appears that they are primarily reactant to restrictions that come from other persons rather than from physical barriers (S. S. Brehm, 1981). ...

Why should psychological reactance emerge at the age of 2? Perhaps the answer has to do with a crucial change that most children go through at this time. It is then that they first come to a recognition of themselves as individuals (Howe, 2003). ... A child with the newfound realization that he or she is such a being will want to explore the length and breadth of the options... Vital questions of choice, rights, and control now need to be asked and answered within their small minds. The tendency to fight for every liberty and against every restriction might be best understood, then, as a quest for information. By testing severely the limits of their freedoms (and, coincidentally, the patience of their parents), the children are discovering where in their worlds they can expect to be controlled and where to be in control.
--Robert Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, on evidence that your kid's contrariness isn't just in your head

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