I is for Inherently good?

“But if babies have positive feelings for the similar puppet, do they actually have negative feelings for the one who’s different?”

Watching CBS News 60 Minutes this summer, I noted that they repeated a story Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality. I found it fascinating, as I watched it for a second time.

“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?”

There were a series of experiments done on children six months old at a clinic associated with Yale University: “In offering babies this seemingly small, innocuous choice — graham crackers or Cheerios — [researcher Karen] Wynn is probing something big: the origins of bias. The tendency to prefer others who are similar to ourselves.

“So will [baby] 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.”

Reporter Lesley Stahl notes that the child went with his bias.

“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.”

I can’t help but wonder if most people, including adults, react similarly, depending on whether they relate to different individuals in a dispute.

But there are also positive outcomes in this study. Especially as children get older, altruism develops, a sense of fairness.

Here is the video, and here’s a bonus feature, Is your child fair when no one is watching?


ABC Wednesday – Round 13

Royally exhausted

His royal highness Christopher Rupert Vwindemier Vlandamier Carl Alexander Francois Reginald Lancelot Herman Gregory James is giving a ball.


My personal nightmare is over, and I won’t have to listen to the incessant stories about George Cambridge, which sounds like the name of a character actor in 1970s films, but in fact is what I’ve dubbed one baby born this past Monday, along with about 350,000 others worldwide.

It’s not that I have a particular antipathy towards the royals as much as I don’t much care. The overload of coverage, though, made me cranky.

I was at my physical therapist’s earlier this week, and NBC’s TODAY show was on TV. The hosts promised a royal-free zone in their vapid What’s Trending segment but did one non-crown story before devolving. Over the previous weekend, with no baby, the news organizations were reduced to reporting on how much time and effort news organizations were spending waiting for George.

Then the baby was born. Lots of even numbers, I noticed. 8 pounds, 6 ounces, 4:24 p.m. on the 22nd of the month. I suppose I, like some others, was hoping for a girl, if only to put that new primogeniture law to the test.

What, no baby name yet?! Wait a day, people! Names of royals always remind me that Diana muffed Charles Philip Arthur George’s name at the wedding, saying Philip Charles. It also brings to mind Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, specifically, “The Prince is Giving a Ball” – LYRICS and LISTEN:
Herald: His royal highness, Christopher Rupert Vwindemier Vlandamier Carl Alexander Francois Reginald Lancelot Herman
Boy: HERMAN?
Herald: Herman Gregory James is giving a ball.

The Wife, though, is more interested in the newest heir to the British throne, maybe because she is related. Nine generations ago, back in the 1690s, John Olin married Susannah Spencer, who is an ancestor of Princess Diana. Usually, I zip through the recorded news, but this week, I have to wait for her to watch the royal news, something I might otherwise have zapped through.

I’ve heard less about the desire of skipping over Charles (who’s only been waiting most of his life to become a king; don’t expect HIS mom to abdicate), and to install William, who is, after all, a tired new dad. Also, it seems that the hatred of Camilla has waned in the years since Diana’s death.

Speaking of the royals, about six months after Charles and Diana’s wedding back in 1981, my friend Jessica Lawrence developed a parody skit of that event, a narrative accompanied by a slide show. The pictures were taken at Westminister Presbyterian Church in Albany. The presentation was the Eighth Step Coffee House when it was still located at First Presbyterian Church, and it was hilariously irreverent. That’s Jessica as Diana and me as the Archbishop of Canterbury.