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'Baby Illusion' Makes Youngest Child Seem Smaller

Baby illusion makes younger children appear smaller
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you're used to thinking of your youngest kid as your "baby" (no matter her age), you're not alone. But research is now proving that you probably also tend to think of that "baby" as smaller than the rest of your kids, too. And while, yes, this may be true during several years of childhood—when that youngest kid really is a baby—even when she catches up to her older siblings in size, a mom's perception apparently never changes.

Strange, huh?

Scientists are calling this the "baby illusion." But don't worry; it can be totally shattered—as soon as you have another baby.

In a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology, researchers surveyed 747 moms and found that over 70 percent noted their first kid suddenly seemed larger and older as soon as their second baby arrived.

"Contrary to what many may think, this isn't happening just because the older child looks so big compared to a baby," said Jordy Kaufman, a researcher at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. "It actually happens because all along, the parents were under an illusion that their first child was smaller than he or she really was. When the new baby is born, the spell is broken, and parents now see their older child as he or she really is."

Not really buying all this spells and illusion stuff?

To further prove their theory, Kaufman and fellow researchers asked moms to estimate their kid's height by way of marking a blank wall. They then brought in the kids themselves and compared Mom's markings against the actual heights of each kid. Turns out mom was spot-on when it came to guessing her oldest child's size; but she consistently misjudged the size of her youngest (or only) child. In fact, youngest children were perceived as 3 inches shorter than they actually were.

So what does it all mean? Researchers suggest that when parents view their kids as smaller and more vulnerable, they tend to focus on them more and pour more resources into their education. "The key implication is that we may treat our youngest children as if they are actually younger than they really are," Kaufman said. "In other words, our research potentially explains why the 'baby of the family' never outgrows that label. To the parents, the baby of the family may always be 'the baby.'"

Do you think you view your youngest as smaller than the others?

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