Past studies have shown that babies have some basic concept of physics (objects obey the same physical laws everywhere) and psychology (people everywhere have minds, goals, desires and beliefs). But can we now say that there exists a universal moral code that even babies understand? Can babies tell right from wrong?
Researchers says yes, although this may be a controversial claim, since people’s conception of morality varies from society to society. “At the same time,” writes Paul Bloom in the New York Times, “People everywhere have some sense of right and wrong. You won’t find a society where people don’t have some notion of fairness, don’t put some value on loyalty and kindness, don’t distinguish between acts of cruelty and innocent mistakes, don’t categorize people as nasty or nice.”
How does this manifest itself in babies who can’t express themselves? To test “baby morality” studies were conducted at the Infant Cognition Center (within one of the Yale psychology buildings). Short puppet shows were shown to babies in which one puppet helped the other, and another puppet hindered. In the end, results showed that 6- and 10-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual. “This wasn’t a subtle statistical trend; just about all the babies reached for the good guy… babies are drawn to the nice guy and repelled by the mean guy. Again, these results were not subtle; babies almost always showed this pattern of response.” In other words, babies at an early age can identify actions which we’d call “mean” or “nice.” Even more fascinating is that the babies show an elementary appreciation for “justice,” where they favor “mean” actors, when those actors are punishing bad behavior
You can read in more detail about these studies at the New York Times or watch this NY Times video. The article concludes, “Babies possess certain moral foundations — the capacity and willingness to judge the actions of others, some sense of justice, gut responses to altruism and nastiness.” Does the existence of an innate moral sense mean there’s something more profound going on than biological evolution could produce, “the voice of God within our souls,” to quote Dinesh D’Souza?
I, for one, would say YES. What do you think?