(ORDO NEWS) — We are indoctrinated with the idea of good and evil from an early age. Society constantly rewards children for being “good”.
A large part of education is connected with teaching the child morality (the concept of right or wrong). Does this mean that all of our morality is completely taught to us? Or are we born “good”?
The researchers noticed that infants, for example, enjoyed helping adults who were struggling in a variety of situations.
Empathy and Altruism in Infants
As social animals, we empathize with our fellow humans and often help them, even if they are strangers. Society has a positive view of altruistic behavior. This raises the question of whether we learn to be altruists as we grow older, because this is positively perceived by society.
Psychologists have shown that babies react by crying when they hear tape recordings of other babies crying. But they don’t show the same reaction when they hear recordings of their own crying, older children, or even chimpanzee crying!
This type of “infectious crying” is an early sign of our empathy for members of our species and peers of the same age. So, we are, without a doubt, inherently empathetic beings. But are we innately altruistic?
To answer this question, scientists studied the behavior of infants through an interesting experiment. In this setup, 24-month-old infants observed an adult reaching for an out-of-reach object or trying to place books in a closed bookcase.
The researchers noticed that infants enjoyed helping adults who were struggling in a variety of situations. Surprisingly, they helped even before the adult looked up at them or verbally asked for help.
It is important to note that these infants were not rewarded for help and did not know the adult prior to the experiment. This means that in infancy we are naturally altruistic.
Morality in babies
The simplest way to define morality is to call it the ability to distinguish between good and bad social actions. Altruistic behavior is considered a good deed.
Because the scientists found that infants were willing to help each other, this led them to question whether infants could judge the actions of a third party as altruistic. Simply put, do babies have a sense of morality?
A study that looked at infants aged 6 and 10 months found that they have some sense of morality. In a series of experiments, the children observed how the characters either “help” or “hinder” other characters.
The children consistently preferred the “helper” to both the “interfering” and “neutral” characters, and preferred the “neutral” character to the “interfering” character.
This study proved that babies have a rudimentary sense of morality and prefer people who demonstrate good social acts.
But is this behavior present at an earlier age? When scientists looked at babies as young as 3 months old, they saw that this behavior is common even to them. We prefer “good” social actions and pro-social actors even at 3 months of age after birth.
Further research has shown that infants prefer to “punish” the “bad” and “reward” the “good”, showing that their sense of morality influences how they treat others in social environments.
However, this does not mean that infants have the same level of morality as adults. For example, you can’t expect a baby to solve the infamous “trolley problem” – where you have to choose between killing five people or one by pulling the lever of a moving cart! This level of ethical and moral judgment is absent in infants.
Scientific evidence only shows that the basic foundation for a well-developed sense of morality already exists in infancy.
We often believe that morality is taught through education and supervision. But research in developmental psychology shows that even as infants, we have a basic sense of morality. Even infants who have not yet begun to speak are able to distinguish between good and bad deeds, and this affects how they relate to others.
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