Thyme to touch: infants possess strategies that protect them from dangers posed by plants

Cognition. 2014 Jan;130(1):44-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2013.09.002. Epub 2013 Oct 24.


Plants have been central to human life as sources of food and raw materials for artifact construction over evolutionary time. But plants also have chemical and physical defenses (such as harmful toxins and thorns) that provide protection from herbivores. The presence of these defenses has shaped the behavioral strategies of non-human animals. Here we report evidence that human infants possess strategies that would serve to protect them from dangers posed by plants. Across two experiments, infants as young as eight months exhibit greater reluctance to manually explore plants compared to other entities. These results expand the growing literature showing that infants are sensitive to certain ancestrally recurrent dangers, and provide a basis for further exploration.

Keywords: Danger avoidance; Evolutionary psychology; Infancy; Natural world.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / physiology*
  • Instinct*
  • Male
  • Plants*
  • Touch / physiology*