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Toddlers like high-status individuals who win, but prefer to avoid those who win conflicts by using force, a study has found.

The results demonstrated how toddlers use social cues and prefer to affiliate themselves with the winners of conflicts and avoid those who they have seen yield to others. 

"The way you behave in a conflict of interest reveals something about your social status," said lead author Ashley Thomas from University of California, Irvine. 

"Across all social animal species, those with a lower social status will yield to those above them in the hierarchy. We wanted to explore whether small children also judge high and low status individuals differently," she added.

For the study, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, the team included a small group of toddlers aged 21 to 31 months, and presented them with two puppets that attempt to cross a stage in opposite directions. 

When the puppets meet in the middle, they block each other's way. One puppet then yields to the other and moves aside, allowing the other puppet to continue and reach its goal of crossing the stage. 

The majority of the kids reached for the puppet that had "won" the conflict on the stage -- the unyielding puppet, indicating that they preferred the high-status puppet -- the one that others voluntarily yield to.

Further, the researchers explored whether toddlers would still prefer the winning puppet if it won by using brute force.

The team exposed a new group of toddlers to the same puppet show, but this time one puppet would forcefully knock the other puppet over to reach its goal. Now a majority of children avoided the winning puppet and reached for the victim instead.

"Our results indicate that the fundamental social rules and motives that undergird core social relationships may be inherent in human nature, which itself developed during thousands of years of living together in cultural communities," the researchers said.

- IANS