Heterogeneity in use of Attention-Getting Parental Nouns (ATGEPOS)

                Gaining a parent’s attention is an important aspect of survival for juvenile animals belonging to species with extended developmental periods.  Parental attention can be gained in a variety of manners, but among humans, the use of the attention-getting parental nouns (ATGEPOS, such as Mom/Dad) is widespread. Primates have an especially long developmental period requiring parents to invest significant amounts of energy into their offspring’s growth (1).  In particular, Homo sapiens have long been known to invest extraordinary amounts of time, attention, sanity & monetary resources into their offspring(2). Under these circumstances, one might predict that the offspring of H. sapiens  might have a relaxed need for gaining parental attention, however informal observations suggest that this is not the case.  In fact there is a remarkable heterogeneity in parental attention getting, with some children needing very little and some appearing to require infinite amounts of parental attention.  In this study we document for the first time this heterogeneity.

Materials & Methods

                A non-random sample of children (N = 2) were observed for a total of 45 minutes and use of the ATGEPO “Dad” was counted.   Only “Dad”s  that came at the beginning of a sentence were counted – if the they occurred in the middle or at the end of a sentence or sentence fragment (as in “Right Dad?”), it was not counted.  No attempt was made to manipulate the children’s surroundings – breakfast (Cheerios (General Mills, Minneapolis, Minnesota and waffles (Kelloggs, Battle Creek, Michigan) was served and Sesame Street & Curious George were shown on TV as per normal Sunday protocols.


                One child (A) used 31 “Dad”s in the 45 minute period while the other (B) used the term once (figure 1).  The  use of “Dad”s by child A were not uniform through out the observation period, with up to 3 or 4 Ds being used in a 10 second period interspersed with minutes of non-use.

Figure 1 – Quantitation of “Dad”s


            Children appear to show wide variation in their need to gain parental attention despite a remarkable homogeneity in cuteness.  One limitation of this study was an inability to control all possible variables.  For instance, it is certain that all children will use attention getting parental pronouns less when focused attention is centered on them, however this is impossible to maintain at all times in a household setting.  We noted that ATGEPOS were still used during periods of focused attention on A, although they might have been used less.  More studies are required to document this incredible phenomenon that, at times, drains huge amounts of parental sanity.

1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primate

2.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_development_(biology)


About SubOptimist

I am an Associate Professor in the Science Department at Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston. I teach introductory biology courses at both the majors and non-majors level in addition to microbiology. Previous to that I spent 7 years as a postdoctoral researcher on different viruses. While I don't miss being on the "grant treadmill", I think better when I write and miss writing up data for papers and grants; this blog helps me with that a little. And sometimes my kids' insanely funny and cute antics need to be shared with the world. Any view expressed in this blog is that of me personally and not Georgia Perimeter College or the GPC Clarkston Science Department.
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