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 Babies and Morality

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PostSubject: Babies and Morality   Babies and Morality I_icon_minitimeWed Sep 11, 2013 7:30 pm

This is from 60 Minutes -- here is the link, however long it is maintained...


And here are excerpts from the transcript:

It's a question people have asked for as long as there have been people: are human beings inherently good? Are we born with a sense of morality or do we arrive blank slates, waiting for the world to teach us right from wrong?

Wesley watches as the puppet in the center struggles to open up a box with a toy inside. The puppy in the yellow shirt comes over and lends a hand. Then the scene repeats itself, but this time the puppy in the blue shirt comes and slams the box shut. Nice behavior...mean behavior...at least to our eyes. But is that how a 5-month-old sees it, and does he have a preference?

He can't answer, but he can reach... (reaches for nice puppet)

More than three fourths of the babies tested reached for the nice puppet. Wynn tried it out on even younger babies, 3 month olds, who can't control their arms enough to reach. But they can vote with their eyes, since research has shown that even very young babies look longer at things they like. Daisy here looked at the mean puppet for 5 seconds; then switched to the nice one for 33.

Lesley Stahl: So basically as young as three months old, we human beings show a preference for nice people over mean people.

Karen Wynn: Study after study after study, the results are always consistently babies feeling positively towards helpful individuals in the world. And disapproving, disliking, maybe condemning individuals who are antisocial towards others.

- - - - - - -

They showed babies like James here a puppet behaving badly -- instead of rolling the ball back to the puppet in the middle, this green-shirted bunny keeps the other puppet's ball, and runs away.

Then James is shown a second show -- this time the bunny who he just saw steal the ball, tries to open up the box to get the toy. Will James still prefer the puppet who helps out?

He chose the one who slammed it shut, as did 81 percent of babies tested. The study's conclusion: babies seem to view the ball thief "as deserving punishment."

Lesley Stahl: So do you think that babies, therefore, are born with an innate sense of justice?

Karen Wynn: At a very elemental level, I think so.

Paul Bloom: What we're finding in the baby lab, is that there's more to it than that -- that there's a universal moral core that all humans share. The seeds of our understanding of justice, our understanding of right and wrong, are part of our biological nature.

Wait a minute, if babies are born with a basic sense of right and wrong, a universal moral core, where does all the evil in the world come from? Is that all learned? Well maybe not.

[Annie: Would you like a snack?]

In offering babies this seemingly small, innocuous choice -- graham crackers or Cheerios -- Wynn is probing something big: the origins of bias. The tendency to prefer others who are similar to ourselves.

Karen Wynn: Adults will like others who share even really absolutely trivial similarities with them.

So will Nate, who chose Cheerios over graham crackers, prefer this orange cat, who also likes Cheerios -- over the grey cat who likes graham crackers instead?

Apparently so. But if babies have positive feelings for the similar puppet, do they actually have negative feelings for the one who's different? To find out, Wynn showed babies the grey cat -- the one who liked the opposite food, struggling to open up the box to get a toy. Will Gregory here want to see the graham cracker eater treated well? Or does he want him treated badly?

Gregory seemed to want the different puppet treated badly.

Lesley Stahl: That is amazing. So he went with his bias in a way.

And so did Nate and 87 percent of the other babies tested. From this Wynn concludes that infants prefer those "who harm... others" who are unlike them.

Paul Bloom: What could be more arbitrary than whether you like graham crackers or Cheerios?

Lesley Stahl: Nothing.

Paul Bloom: Nothing. But it matters. It matters to the young baby. We are predisposed to break the world up into different human groups based on the most subtle and seemingly irrelevant cues, and that, to some extent, is the dark side of morality.

He says it makes sense that evolution would predispose us to be wary of "the other" for survival, so we need society and parental nurturing to intervene. He showed us one last series of experiments being done in his lab -- not with babies, but with older children of different ages. The kids get to decide how many tokens they'll get, versus how many will go to another child they're told will come in later. They're told the tokens can be traded in for prizes.

[Mark: So you can say green, and if you say green, then you get this one and the other girl doesn't get any; or you can say blue, and if you say blue, then you get these two, and the other girl gets these two. So green or--

Rebecca: Green!]

The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid -- in some cases, a lot more.

[Mark: So you get these seven. She doesn't get any.

Kendall: Yay!]

Paul Bloom: They don't care about fairness. What they want is they want relatively more.

But a funny thing happens as kids get older. Around age 8, they start choosing the equal, fair option more and more. And by 9 or 10, we saw kids doing something really crazy -- deliberately giving the other kid more.

They become generous. Chalk one up to society.

So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we're wired for -- the selfishness, the bias -- but he says the instinct is still there.

. . .

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PostSubject: Re: Babies and Morality   Babies and Morality I_icon_minitimeMon Sep 16, 2013 2:03 pm

That is really interesting. I'd never heard of this study before.
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PostSubject: Re: Babies and Morality   Babies and Morality I_icon_minitimeTue Sep 17, 2013 1:01 am

Nice. That'd be kinda scary if a baby just stared into the eyes of the evil puppet and consistently chose the darker side of morality. Sometimes my nephew seems like that, he creeps me out a lot. Even though he's alot younger than me, he's kinda scary. My folks and I think he may be a sociopath. (Difference from psychopath, note).
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PostSubject: Re: Babies and Morality   Babies and Morality I_icon_minitimeTue Sep 17, 2013 5:11 pm


Thanks for sharing this. I remember in my Criminology class, they spoke of 2 traits. Life Course Theories which have to do with certain life events that change people, and Latent Trait Theories which have to do with traits that people are born with that say what kind of people they are and will be.
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PostSubject: Re: Babies and Morality   Babies and Morality I_icon_minitime

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