New study suggests babies are amoral
Posted on October 5, 2012
You might recall that in January I posted an article by Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom in which Bloom argued, based on findings published in the journal Nature, that “humans have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.” In other words, babies are born with a basic sense of right and wrong.
Well, new research from New Zealand’s University of Otago directly contradicts Bloom’s claims. Rachel Nuwer of Smithsonian has the story:
In the original study, Bloom and his co-authors presented 6 and 10-month-old infants with two scenarios in which a wooden toy tried to climb a hill. In the first scenario, another toy tried to help the climber toy up. In the second, the helper toy turned malicious and instead pushed the climber down the hill. After viewing the interactions, they presented the infants with the option of picking up either the helping toy or the hindering toy. Most chose the helper, which Bloom and his colleagues interpreted as indicative of the babies’ preference for morality.
However, the skeptical researchers in this new study noticed that there were some other obvious differences going on besides just the social interactions. The hinderer toy collided with the climber toy, for example, whereas the helper toy engaged in a fun bouncing action to get its friend up the hill.
To see if the babies actually just like bouncy objects, the New Zealand researchers switched up the game, associating the hinderer toy with bouncing rather than colliding. If babies are so moral, they reasoned, the little guys should see past the bouncing and still pick the helper. Not so. The babies went for the bouncer regardless of the adult world’s perceptions of right or wrong.
The moral (no pun intended!) of the story being: parenting is still very important.