Infants expect leaders to right wrongs

Maayan Stavans, Renée Baillargeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anthropological and psychological research on direct third-party punishment suggests that adults expect the leaders of social groups to intervene in within-group transgressions. Here, we explored the developmental roots of this expectation. In violation-of-expectation experiments, we asked whether 17-mo-old infants (n = 120) would expect a leader to intervene when observing a within-group fairness transgression but would hold no particular expectation for intervention when a nonleader observed the same transgression. Infants watched a group of 3 bear puppets who served as the protagonist, wrongdoer, and victim. The protagonist brought in 2 toys for the other bears to share, but the wrongdoer seized both toys, leaving none for the victim. The protagonist then either took 1 toy away from the wrongdoer and gave it to the victim (intervention event) or approached each bear in turn without redistributing a toy (nonintervention event). Across conditions, the protagonist was either a leader (leader condition) or a nonleader equal in rank to the other bears (nonleader condition); across experiments, leadership was marked by either behavioral or physical cues. In both experiments, infants in the leader condition looked significantly longer if shown the nonintervention as opposed to the intervention event, suggesting that they expected the leader to intervene and rectify the wrongdoer’s transgression. In contrast, infants in the nonleader condition looked equally at the events, suggesting that they held no particular expectation for intervention from the nonleader. By the second year of life, infants thus already ascribe unique responsibilities to leaders, including that of righting wrongs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16292-16301
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 13 2019


  • Direct third-party punishment
  • Infancy
  • Leadership
  • Norm enforcement
  • Sociomoral cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Infants expect leaders to right wrongs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this