A baby’s sense of morality

Research is showing that babies as young as six months have a moral sense.  Some ingenious experiments with toys show babies favoring “good guys” over “bad guys.”  And they really like to see “bad guys” punished.   This suggests that morality is not just learned from the culture but that it has elements that are innate–that is, “written on the heart.”   Details after the jump.

From Yale Study Says Babies Have Built-In Developing Sense of Morality | LifeSiteNews.com:

Researchers in baby psychology at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut say that they have gathered evidence that suggests babies demonstrate a “rudimentary” moral sense very soon after they are born, indicating that morality may be hardwired into human beings from the very beginning.

The UK Daily Mail reports that researchers at Yale University devised several tests that they say showed that babies under a year old had an innate sense of “naëve morality,” as opposed to a blank mental slate that would be formed by their interactions with older members and their experiences.

Yale researchers at the Infant Cognition Center said that the babies in their study showed a preference for “helpful” actors versus “hindering” actors, thus showing a “rudimentary” sense of morality. One experiment involved a “one-act morality play” in which a toy dog is attempting to open up a box. The researchers found that the babies preferred to select the teddy bear who helps the dog open the box, over the bear who sat on the box frustrating the dog’s efforts.

Another scenario involved the babies watching a puppet cat roll a ball to two puppet rabbits. When the cat rolled the ball to the first rabbit, it rolled the ball straight back. But the second rabbit ran off with the ball that the cat had rolled to it. The babies also preferred the first rabbit, who rolled the ball back to the cat.

‘With the help of well designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life,” said Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University in Connecticut, who has devoted years of study to observing how moral sense can develop in babies. “A growing body of evidence suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.”

Bloom in a recent essay for the New York Times, explained more insights from the experiments that he and his colleagues had conducted at Yale’s Infant Cognition Center.

“The results were striking. When the target of the action was itself a good guy, babies preferred the puppet who was nice to it,” wrote Bloom. But he added that he saw this intuitive moral hardwiring in babies when it came to the administration of baby justice.

“What was more interesting was what happened when they watched the bad guy being rewarded or punished. Here they chose the punisher,” said Bloom. “Despite their overall preference for good actors over bad, then, babies are drawn to bad actors when those actors are punishing bad behavior.”

“In the end, we found that 6- and 10-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual. This wasn’t a subtle statistical trend; just about all the babies reached for the good guy,” he continued.

See also The Moral Life of Babies in the New York Times.

 

HT:  Mary Moerbe

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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