Kiss and tell: study says saliva sharing a signal for babies learning about relationships
When two people share a kiss or one offers the other a bite of a bagel (during non-pandemic times) there’s likely not too much thought given to the fact that they’re swapping saliva.
After all, smooching and snack sharing are everyday, intimate behaviours that occur in nuclear families and close relationships.
However, new research shows that for babies and toddlers, interactions specifically involving saliva exchange serve as a cue about social attachments and who they can count on.
Young children expect people who share saliva to have close, distinctive relationships and “to respond to one another in distress,” according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.
The findings suggest that babies can use these cues to try to figure out early in life who around them is most likely to offer help, and which relationships are close, the researchers said in a news release.
“People have hypothesized that infants may be able to do something like this for a really long time,” said first author Ashley J. Thomas, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the brain and cognitive sciences department.
“How babies possibly learn about something as complex as the social world is a really old question that anthropologists have actually been asking,” Johnson said in a phone interview with CTV News, as she discussed the findings, which are novel in the field of developmental psychology.
The researchers studied the reactions of more than 150 young children, mostly in the United States, who took part in several experiments to see “if they do infer that two individuals who share saliva are likely to be in a thick relationship."
“‘Thick,’ in this case refers to a relationship that features high levels of attachment, for example, the types of intimate connections that lead to people kissing, sharing food and utensils, and, as a result, saliva.
EXPERIMENTAL PUPPET THEATRE
To answer their questions, the researchers observed toddlers and babies as they watched human actors and furry puppets interact via video chat.
In one set of experiments, the small children watched one puppet eat from the same orange slice as one actor, and play ball with a second actor.
Then, the puppet sat between the two people and showed signs of distress.
Based on earlier studies involving monkeys, the researchers theorized the babies would first look at the person whom they expected would help the distressed puppet, because in the monkey study, when the baby monkey cried, other members of the troop looked to the baby’s mother as if expecting her to respond.
Sure enough, the team from MIT found the toddlers and infants “looked first and longer” at the actor who had shared food with the puppet, expecting her to help with its distress, rather than looking at the actor who had shared a toy with the puppet.
Another set of experiments focused more specifically on saliva and involved an actor placing a finger into her mouth and then into the mouth of a puppet, or placing her finger on her forehead and then on the forehead of the puppet.
When the actor, this time standing between two puppets expressed distress, the children were again more likely to look toward the puppet that had engaged in saliva sharing.
The researchers suggest “young humans” may make use of the saliva-swapping behaviours they observe to help them understand the concept of a family structure.
But Thomas doesn’t want anyone to conclude that someone who has a “thin” relationship with a child, such as a daycare educator, is any less capable of taking care of them.
“My child’s daycare teachers are amazing. So I wouldn't expect that those daycare teachers would want to swap saliva with my daughter, but I also wouldn't expect them to have a long and enduring attachment with her,” Thomas explained.
“The idea is that basically both of those types of relationships, the ones that are friendly and cooperative, that don't involve these long and enduring attachments, and the ones that do, are both really important for humans,” she said.
However, if you can distinguish one from the other, she summed up, then you know what to expect.
Montreal Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre has a personal financial interest in cryptocurrencies that he has promoted during his campaign as a hedge against inflation.
A day after Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner was robbed of his Range Rover at gunpoint outside an Etobicoke movie theatre, Toronto police said they have already seen more carjackings so far this year than they did in all of 2021.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is urging the U.S. government to convince Michigan to abandon its legal campaign against the Line 5 pipeline.
Former Pentagon officials have briefed at least three Canadian members of Parliament about unidentified flying objects, according to a Manitoba MP and a Texas-based researcher.
Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, have arrived in St. John's, N.L., to begin a three-day Canadian tour that includes stops in Ottawa and the Northwest Territories.
Saddle Lake Cree Nation in eastern Alberta is 'actively researching and investigating' the deaths of at least 200 residential school children who never came home, as remains are being found in unmarked grave sites.
Canada's transport minister is dismissing claims that the federal government asked airlines to reduce their schedules and cancel flights to ease recent travel delays.
The Green Party of Canada is calling on the federal government to develop a targeted anti-transgender hate strategy, citing a 'rising tide of hate' both in Canada and abroad. Amita Kuttner, who is Canada's first transgender federal party leader, made the call during a press conference on Parliament Hill on Tuesday.
International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up, people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn't physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.
Political analysts call Doug Ford's approach the “front-runner” strategy and say it started long before the writ was drawn.
An Ontario man who has nearly 1 million-kilometres on his car is sharing his secret of how he did it.
The police officer who fatally shot a 26-year-old Indigenous woman during a wellness check in Edmundston, N.B., two years ago says he doesn't know why things escalated so quickly.
When a man disguised as a Mountie started killing people in northern Nova Scotia two years ago, there was considerable confusion over who was in charge of the RCMP operation, newly released documents show.
A woman who was stabbed overnight in the Halifax area has died from her injuries.
A police investigation has been sparked after a north London, Ont. playground was vandalized with hate symbols.
The London Fire Department responded to a fast-moving blaze early Tuesday evening in the area of Dundas Street and Lyle Street, resulting in an estimated $50,000 worth of damages.
One person is in custody for allegedly breaking and entering after a Sarnia business owner saw they were being robbed in real-time thanks to a video surveillance system.
As the provincial election nears, Sault Ste. Marie incumbent Ross Romano is squaring off again against Michelle McCleave-Kennedy, who gave him a tough fight in 2018.
A new study by Nord VPN, a cybersecurity company, shows some interesting results regarding cellphone usage in the bathroom.
While oil prices have been soaring of late, an industry analyst says retailers in northern Ontario have hiked prices more than necessary.
The ballots are in and tension is building within the United Conservative Party ahead of Wednesday's revelation of the result of Jason Kenney's leadership review.
Alberta schools boards can choose to pilot three more subjects in the new K-6 draft curriculum this fall, which is drawing criticism from some parents and student advocates.
The last time the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers faced each other in the playoffs was way back in 1991.
The search continued Tuesday for a man police say may have information about the death of an 8-year-old boy in Cambridge. Neighbours also shared their concerns about the police response.
Provincial police have launched an investigation after human remains were found in the water in Dunnville, just northwest of Port Maitland.
A contentious topic is back under review in Cambridge. City council is hearing from a number of delegates sharing their thoughts about a paintball company's land and whether it should be re-zoned.
The soaring cost of gas is hitting charities in Metro Vancouver hard and organizations are worried they will soon have to make tough decisions and cuts to services if they don’t get some relief.
Volunteers with the CFB Chilliwack Historical Society are reeling after thieves broke into a military museum and stole irreplaceable items donated by war veterans and their families.
As grocery shoppers face sticker shock week after week, some are questioning whether inflation is fully to blame for rising prices.
Users of the oldest public swimming pool in Edmonton celebrated a small victory Tuesday as a new Scona rec centre was added to the queue of projects awaiting funds.
Weapons incident and vandalism in Essex has some calling for return of police-led VIP program in schools
Numerous meetings have taken place since a youth allegedly fired an airsoft gun at a dance last Friday.
A Windsor man is facing charges following an investigation into an alleged investment scheme that defrauded more than $800,000 from multiple victims.
A person was taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries after their motorbike collided with a parked car Tuesday afternoon.
Some food vendors at Mosaic Stadium are pausing preparations for the preseason as the CFL strike has potential to postpone the first exhibition game of the year.
The Williston Basin Petroleum Conference has returned to Regina after three years away due to the pandemic.
Saskatchewan motorists will be feeling the pain at the pumps as they hit the highway this long weekend, with it costing over $100 to fill the tank on many vehicles.
Buckingham Palace has released new details on Prince Charles and his wife Camilla’s three-day tour of Canada next month, which includes a stop in Ottawa.
Experts say supply chain issues and panic buying are leading to baby formula shortages.
The Ottawa Fire Service says a rope crew helped rescue a man who fell down a steep drop near Walkley Road Tuesday evening.
Former Epic Alliance employee says firm 'pushed' for higher appraisals of homes it sold to investors
A former employee of Epic Alliance says the firm sometimes "pushed" for higher appraisals on homes sold to landlords and would rent to tenants who would "destroy" properties
With the University of Saskatchewan research team monitoring the city's wastewater for signs of COVID-19 noting an 85 per cent drop in its latest update, experts in the city say the trend is cause for cautious optimism.
Saskatoon Police Service officers are not permitted to wear Thin Blue Line patches, according to a report to the Board of Police Commissioners.