Persuasive communication - Presentations

What Babies Know that Presenters Don’t

Preparing for the big presentation

Preparing for the big presentation

According to research by developmental psychologists Alison Gopnik and Betty Repacholi, babies develop empathy some time between 14 and 18 months of age, which is much earlier than was originally thought.[1]

They discovered this through an ingenious experiment in which babies of each age group were offered the choice of either broccoli or Goldfish crackers. Not surprisingly, most preferred the Goldfish. Next, Repacholi selected one of the foods and either made a delighted or a disgusted face when she bit into it. Finally, she would hold out her hand to the baby and ask for some food.

The 18 month old babies would offer Repacholi the one that they saw that she liked, regardless of whether it was the one they liked. The 14 month old babies would show confusion when she appeared to like the broccoli, and then would offer her the Goldfish.

What this meant was that they had developed the capacity for empathy, to see others as different individuals, with their own likes and dislikes. Before these experiments, psychologists had thought that children did not develop empathy until much later, so Gopnik and Repacholi pushed back the boundaries to a much earlier stage in their development.

Curiously, scientists haven’t done any additional research to determine the age at which humans lose the capacity for empathy, or for putting themselves into the minds of others. I think I may be able to offer researchers a clue. I’ve noticed a similar look of confusion on the faces of full grown adults when I tell them their sales presentations have to be about the buyer and not about themselves.

They insist on including several slides about their own companies, their products, and their cool technologies. They get excited about their product’s features, without stopping to consider whether the customer actually cares. It’s all about what they like.

It seems that humans develop empathy at around 18 months, and lose it right around the time they have to make a presentation. Just doing my bit to advance scientific knowledge…


[1] The story comes from Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, by Gary Klein.

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