A study published in “Nature Communications”,  by researchers from the University of Kansas, led by Amanda Bruce, has shown that children take into account their own preference as well as the hypothetical preference of their mothers.

Bruce and colleagues administered behavioral tests to 25 children aged from 8 to 14 years as well as administering, at the same time, functional magnetic resonance imaging scans, a technique that allows us to highlight areas of the brain that are activated when a person is engaged in some activity.

In a first phase of the experiment, the children were asked to give a preference score to each of the images of 60 foods, including apples, broccoli, potato chips and candy. In a second phase, the same subjects had to indicate how intensively they wanted a certain food or indicate how likely their mothers would choose for them a certain food.

Analysis of the results showed that the personal choices of the children were explained better by a combination of their personal taste and the idea they had regarding the preferences of their mothers.

In particular, the fMRI scans showed that the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area involved in reward, was connected to the personal choices of children. Instead, the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is involved in self-control, was related to the idea of the mothers’ preferences.