Summer 2009: Of Note

Singing baby

Monika Wisniewska/

Blushing babies

By Carol Clark

Put on some music and invite a rambunctious two-year-old to dance and you’ll likely get an unabashed show. But an intriguing transition occurs between the ages of two and three, says Philippe Rochat, professor of psychology. Three-year-olds are more likely to hesitate before moving to the music. Those who dance may blush—especially if someone laughs at the performance.

“The fear of social rejection is the mother of all fears,” Rochat says. “It’s a very powerful phenomenon—I think it’s probably even stronger than the drive for sex. It helps define us as a species, and it cuts across all cultures.”

Rochat’s latest book, Others in Mind: The Origins of Self-Consciousness, draws on nearly two decades of research into infant and child developmental psychology, integrating scientific findings with his personal and professional intuition about why we behave the way we do.

The need for affiliation has long been recognized as an inherent human trait. Rochat argues that this basic need fuels a fear of rejection and a struggle for recognition that is central to cognitive psychology.

“The worst thing that can happen,” Rochat says, “is to have a feeling of being transparent—the invisible man.”