Social hierarchies occur across human societies, so all humans must navigate them. Infants can detect when one individual outranks another, but it is unknown whether they approach others based on their social status. This paper presents a series of seven experiments investigating whether toddlers prefer high- or low-ranking individuals. Toddlers aged 21–31 months watched a zero-sum, right-of-way conflict between two puppets, in which one puppet ‘won’ because the other yielded the way. Of the 23 toddlers who participated, 20 reached for the puppet that ‘won’. However, when one puppet used force and knocked the other puppet down in order to win, 18 out of 22 toddlers reached for the puppet that ‘lost’. Five follow-up experiments ruled out alternative explanations for these results. The findings suggest that humans, from a very early age, not only recognize relative status but also incorporate status into their decisions about whether to approach or avoid others, in a way that differs from our nearest primate relatives.
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