For Babies, All That Glistens May be Hazardous

Research that has found babies and toddlers are particularly attracted to glossy, reflective surfaces could help save their lives, according to a study conducted in the UC Davis psychology department.

Speculating that youngsters' attraction to mouthing shiny objects is a holdover from when early primates were seeking water for survival, psychology professor Richard Coss and two undergraduate students, Saralyn Ruff and Tara Simms, conducted two experiments to see how young children reacted to dinner plates with different reflective surfaces.

The researchers studied infants ages 6 to 12 months old and toddlers 13 to 17 months old at day-care centers, observing how they played with a polished stainless steel plate, a glossy white plastic plate, and teal-colored plastic plates with glossy and dull surfaces.

The experiments showed that youngsters prefer to mouth the shinier objects, offering implications for the design and manufacturing of toys, eating and drinking utensils, plastic bags, and household products and appliances, say Coss and his students.

"The visual features of the plates used in this study share some of the features found in many bathtubs constructed of glossy tile, ceramic or fiberglass and in large buckets of galvanized and stainless steel," they write. Although the water in these containers is likely to be the primary attraction, it is possible that dull surface finishes might diminish some of the attraction, especially among the youngest children.

Also, the researchers suggest that fewer incidents of poisoning and suffocation might occur if containers of medicines and cleaning solutions were given dull surface finishes and plastic bags manufactured with dull plastic.

Finally, Coss, Ruff and Simms suggest repositioning mirrors in complex, interactive toys could reduce mouthing by eliminating the water-like reflections from overhead room lighting. Such redesigns could decrease the amount of germs being transmitted from child to child through saliva.

The article was published in the December 2003 issue of Ecological Psychology.

Media Resources

Susanne Rockwell, Web and new media editor, (530) 752-2542,

Richard Coss, Psychology, (530) 752-1626,

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