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