What Your Baby Knows Will Shock You
Your baby is smarter than you think.
When my 7-month-old son grabs my daughter’s hair, she cries and he laughs. In that moment, I’m not sure if he doesn’t know he’s being a little bit evil. But how far does an infant’s moral compass expand? Do babies know right from wrong? These are the questions being examined at the Yale Infant Cognition Center, where Karen Wynn and Paul Bloom are studying infant morality. Bloom, the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen professor of psychology at Yale University is also the author of the new book, “Just Babies,” wherein he argues, “Babies and toddlers can judge the goodness and badness of others’ actions; they want to reward the good and punish the bad; they act to help those in distress; they feel compassion, guilt and righteous anger.”
Thus, making babies even bigger jerks than we realized.
Bloom’s work has been featured on “Anderson Cooper360″ this week, and if you didn’t catch the series you can read more about it on CNN.com and view a Google chat with CNN reporter Kelley Wallace, Anderson Cooper and me. Full disclosure: I have no idea why I was there.
In the Google chat, Bloom noted that the idea of babies being born as perfect blank slates is being overturned by an overwhelming amount of data that shows that babies as young as three months old show a natural inclination for right over wrong.
Bloom’s research also shows that babies divide the world into an us v. them mentality. Bloom calls babies “little bigots” and argues that the research proves that babies prefer the people who are most like them in every way.
Bloom and Wynn study infants using puppets who model good and bad behavior. The CNN article explains, “In one case, a puppet is struggling to open a box. Another puppet, the ‘good’ puppet, helps it open the box, while another, the ‘bad’ puppet, slams the box shut.
“More than 80% of the times that experiment is conducted, babies will select the ‘good’ puppet when presented with both puppets and given the chance to choose either one.”
I asked Bloom if in the course of researching babies he’s uncovered any budding psychopaths. He noted that the vast majority of babies seem to respond to the studies by choosing right over wrong. Although there are the outliers, the small minority of babies that choose bad. Bloom also noted that they have to study those outliers further–maybe the babies were tired or weren’t focused on the experiment.
Until there is further study, I, for one, am going to be keeping my baby away from the knives.
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