Even toddlers know when someone’s being a leader or a bully

Strategists have long wondered whether it’s better to be loved or feared, and three psychology professors may have finally arrived at the answer.

According to a recent study, 21-month-old infants appear to differentiate between two forms of social power: Respect and fear. So which one is more effective?

The science behind it

To conduct the study, the academics had toddlers watch either “bullies” or “leaders” tell people to perform a task. Based on how long the toddlers watched each interaction, they seemed to expect people to obey leaders. In contrast, the babies were torn about whether people would follow the orders of a bully after he left the room and no longer posed an imminent threat.

The end result

From these observations, the study’s authors concluded that “infants distinguish between leaders and bullies,” and  “infants expected the protagonists to continue to obey the leader’s order after she left the scene, but they expected the protagonists to obey the bully’s order only when she remained present.” That seems like a lot to extrapolate from a gaze, but they’re the experts.

If these findings are true, Niccolo Machiavelli is likely rolling in his grave. But even if they aren’t, a new wave of workplace consciousness means it’s time to rethink power dynamics and how people at the top treat employees beneath them.

So even if a toddler isn’t watching, it’s probably best to aim for respect instead of fear. After all, nobody likes a bully.