Back in 2007, researchers at Yale University offered evidence, that really young infants had a “moral compass”. Six-and ten-month olds liked nice toys and avoided nasty, “hinderer” types. It all seemed so reassuring, because babies who like “helpers” is intrinsically pleasant, right?
Are we born amoral or do we come into this world with a rudimentary moral compass? Hamlin and colleagues argue that at least one component of our moral system, the ability to evaluate other individuals as good or bad, is present from an early age. In their study, 6- and 10-month-old infants watched two social interactions – in one, infants observed the helper assist the climber achieve the goal of ascending a hill, while in the other, infants observed the hinderer prevent the climber from ascending the hill. When given a choice, the vast majority of infants picked the helper over the hinderer, suggesting that infants evaluated the helper as good and the hinderer as bad. Hamlin and colleagues concluded that the ability to evaluate individuals based on social interaction is innate. Here, we provide evidence that their findings reflect simple associations rather than social evaluations.
What else could explain the infants’ preferences? Simply associating collisions or bouncing favorably. In other words, the infants responded to collisions, which they didn’t like, and bouncing, which they did like, not to the helping or hindering. Motion, not the relationships between a victim and others, might determine infants’ judgments.
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