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Are babies born knowing good and evil?


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A few posts ago while writing about the keen sense of fairness that kids operate with, I mentioned how kids begin organizing their world by learning words that mean the opposite of one and other. 

Today, the UK Daily Mail carries an article describing recent  research by  Dr. Paul Bloom of Yale University.  Apparently, by the time kids reach the language stage of using words to describe oppositional meaning, they've already had years of experience in observing and recognizing opposites - at least in the moral realm. 

By the age of six months, Dr. Bloom's research lab finds their research subjects already demonstrate a moral code that recognizes the difference between good and evil. Infants watch puppet shows that offer examples of one character offering help in a task while another character attempts to hinder.  Later the babies are shown the toys that were in the story and their preference for one or the other is measured. 

The researchers found that "six and ten 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."  

When a similar experiment is performed with children who are nearly two-years old, the toddlers are given the opportunity to reward the toys they like and withhold rewards from those they don't like. "Most  toddlers punished the 'naughty rabbit' by taking away treats.  One even gave the miscreant a smack on the head as a punishment."  

There are all kinds of interpretations that could be put on top of this  research to suggest conclusions that point in different directions but it is the opinion of Dr. Bloom that "a growing body of evidence suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life...Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bones."   

It makes you think e.e.cummings might have been on to something when he wrote

It takes three to make a child.


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