19 May, 2012

Biscuits, broccoli and bias

Despite knowing I’ll never be a mother, I am often fascinated with issues of child psychology, and enjoy listening to interviews about this.  Perhaps I can do so happily because of the lack of guilt (I'm not doing anything wrong) and the smugness of knowing I can never be criticised for my child-raising skills or lack thereof. 

Anyway, I recently heard a discussion about babies/toddlers and when they become aware that what they want/like might not be what someone else wants/likes. 

Here’s the example they gave.  A baby is given first a biscuit (in my world, a biscuit is a cookie), and then broccoli.  After trying both, the baby is given the choice, and chooses the biscuit.  And every time after that the baby chooses the biscuit.  Clearly, the baby prefers the biscuit.  Then the mother tries the biscuit and broccoli.  But the mother makes positive noises about the broccoli (mmmm, yum, that’s good) and not about the biscuit.  Then the baby is asked to choose one of these for the mother.  At 14 months old, the baby hands the mother the biscuit.  At that age, baby thinks “biscuit good” and therefore gives it to the mother, even though the mother has said “biscuit bad, broccoli good.”  But by 18 months old, the baby gives the mother the broccoli, recognising that what they like is different to what the mother likes.

One of the conclusions of this was that the Terrible Twos, as they are known, are really just part of the process of the baby learning that what they want is different to what others might want, and figuring out what the boundaries are.

Fascinating, I thought, pleased that we learn this so young, so that when we are adults we are more tolerant.  I thought of Mel’s discussion about the different foods we like, and how I was amused that one of her favourite foods was one of my husband’s (and my late father’s) most hated foods (cucumber if you’re wondering).  My husband and I have different tastes in food, books, and music.  We accept those differences – although I might complain that I don’t get to eat pasta as much as I would like to.  But then I stopped myself.  There are times when I will say “I don’t understand why someone likes xxx, yyy or zzz.”  So maybe I’m not quite as tolerant as I thought.  There is no doubt though, that - like an 18 month old -  I am able to recognise that other people like something I don’t.  I just can’t see the appeal of it.  Others however (people not nearly as enlightened!!) don’t separate their dislike of something with their understanding that we all have different tastes.  My mother-in-law for example refuses to admit that she has different tastes to one of her daughters-in-law.  She talks about V’s “ugly” paintings or purchases (I’m sure she says the same things to V about my tastes) , and bristles if I suggest that they are not, in fact, ugly, but are just not her taste.  She almost has a hernia when we talk about someone coming in and remodelling her house.  She simply cannot understand – and refuses to understand - that anyone would not like the same things she does.  I think we all probably know plenty of people like this.

So whilst we might learn this lesson in principle as early as 18 months old, we don’t always apply it.  Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we are at times simply unable to apply it emotionally.  And so when other people struggle to accept our lifestyle – that we have “chosen” to live without children – and try to convince us to do IVF/continue treatments/foster/adopt, what they’re really doing is reverting to the mentality of a 14 month old.  They want us to eat the biscuit, when we have embraced the idea of loving the broccoli.


  1. dear Mali,
    I really liked your post (BTW: I also like to read / learn new things about child psychology).

    And I love your conclusion:
    ...what they’re really doing is reverting to the mentality of a 14 month old :)

    I will think of your sentence when I will be pissed off someone the next time.

    Just few days ago I met with an excoworker, mother of three. I know she wanted to be helpful and to give me some new ideas. She told me that a known actress in my country adopted a baby girl from Gana. And she asked me if I thought about it (BTW: and we are from the country where 99,9 % of population is Caucasian).

    Why can't she be OK with my decision to live childfree? I do not need any help with different ideas, really not.

    PS: before somebody accuses me of being of racist: I am really not! It is just that I think that it must be really hard to be raised in society where everybody else looks different as you are.

    1. Klara, that was also one of my thoughts when I was thinking whether or not we should adopt. Because in the end it's all about the child - if we know the child will mostly endure so much because of the skin colour/race, it's gonna be really heartbreaking.

  2. This is such a wonderful post! I would LOVE to share this on my blog, crediting and linking to your blog, of course!

  3. Mali, this is such an enlightening post. THANKS for sharing! :-D

  4. I love this! So simple, and yet so profoundly TRUE.

    I also wonder about the reasoning behind adults that haven't learned to separate themselves from others - to see that their likes/dislikes are not universal.

    My own MIL is very much like this, and it was almost comical when she was confronted with her son (my husband K) breaking away from her. It was as if her right hand suddenly came to life and told her it was going out and didn't want to be on her body any more. Is this just emotionally stunted thinking on their part, or some intrinsic brain development that never happened?

  5. Loved it. Makes me want to reply: "You're thinking like a 14 month old..." next time.

  6. Great post. What you said is so true, I just hadn't thought of it in the same situation.

  7. great post! i like to hang out at imdb.com a lot. especially after i watch a movie, i want to see what other people think about it. and i always feel if someone hates a movie that i love, then ok, im fine with it. but some people on there get really defensive. i think they take it as an attack on themselves or something.

  8. I really love this post! I too try to be open minded to others choices, but sometimes it is hard to understand. but this broccoli and biscuit idea - love. So well put and well written.

  9. Childless women -- the broccoli of the ALI community, lol. (For the record, I actually like broccoli.) ; )

  10. Love this post. It's so true. And it goes both ways -- it's not getting offended when someone tells us they don't like something we love (like my beloved cucumber -- your husband disliking it doesn't diminish my love for it) as well as understanding that we may like things that others find disgusting. Or incomprehensible.

  11. A bit challenge here..:) I like child psychology as well; now... to learn tolerance and to accept different perceptives, would that include conditioning- (learned thinking/behavior) or of developing independent thinking, with growing conscience and worldwide awareness instead of focusing on one (inward) worldview? :D ;)

    I like to think that I'm open-minded most of the time, but I also find that I do not tolerate closed-minded folks- so am I closed-minded to them? A bit of paradox here. :) Just mumbling to myself...

  12. I like to think I am tolerant of other people's likes and dislikes, and I think I am on some issues but not others.

    My mum hates pasta and garlic. I think she is insane and missing out on so many amazing dishes.

    My SIL dislikes most vegetables, I think this is rather unhealthy but I can understand why... though I do think it's a psychological thing (she thinks she will be sick if she eats them).

    I think people who don't like cats are mad, especially if they are scared of them (yes, Tiddles is going to eat you).

    I am trying to think of some examples where I am tolerant... but I can't.

    Oops. Think I need to work on this.