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Survival instinct blamed for kids not eating their greens

For many parents getting their kids to eat their greens is a constant battle. Meal time tension may now be explained following research by two American academics who belief that evolution has programmed children to avoid plants for fear of them being hazardous.

Having researched toddlers while playing with a variety of objects the two researchers found that they were more reluctant to grasp plants as opposed to the artificial items such as spoons or pipe cleaners. The researchers believe this is as a result of the body building a defence mechanism against the potential dangers in contact with plants at an early stage in life when susceptibility to illness or injury is higher.

The research, carried out by Dr Annie E Wertz and Dr Karen Wynn psychologists at Yale University were published in a paper entitled “Thyme to touch: Infants possess strategies that protect them from dangers posed by plants”. They wrote that “Plants produce toxins as defences against predators that can be harmful, or even deadly, if ingested. Some plants also employ physical defences, such as fine hairs, thorns, and noxious oils that can damage tissues and cause systemic effects.” They added: “We predicted that infants may possess behavioural strategies that reduce their exposure to hazards posed by plant defences by minimising their physical contact with plants.”

In order to test their prediction the researchers studied the reaction of over 100 children aged eight to eighteen months by placing six varying objects one at a time in front of them saying “Look what I’ve got”. They then timed how long it took the child to grasp the item. The findings showed that times taken to grasp the items varied greatly depending on the item. It took 3.4 seconds for the child to reach for shells, 4.6 for lamps and spoons but more than double, at almost 10 seconds, for the children to reach for parsley and basil plants. Even items that were faked to look like plants resulted in a slow time.

The researcher stated “We are not suggesting that infants are actively afraid of plants, rather, we propose that once infants identify an object as a plant, they deploy a behavioural strategy of inhibited manual exploration, which serves to help protect them from plants’ potential dangers.”

So, if you are struggling to get your child to eat, rest assured that it is just years of evolution – just try hiding them under the meat or potato next time!

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