Morality: A Matter of Nature and Nurture

May 13, 2010 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

Nature and NurtureIn a New York Times magazine feature in May 2010, Yale professor Paul Bloom describes the research on the moral instincts of babies being conducted by his research team at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University.  The researchers found that the significant majority of babies as young as 5 months old prefer good (helpful) characters over bad (hindering) ones, moreover babies at 8 months show preference for characters that act justly by either rewarding a good guy, or punishing a bad actor.

However, that is not to say that babies have “moral” preferences in all cases.  He explains one significant bias:

There’s plenty of research showing that babies have within-group preferences: 3-month-olds prefer the faces of the race that is most familiar to them to those of other races; 11-month-olds prefer individuals who share their own taste in food and expect these individuals to be nicer than those with different tastes; 12-month-olds prefer to learn from someone who speaks their own language over someone who speaks a foreign language. And studies with young children have found that once they are segregated into different groups — even under the most arbitrary of schemes, like wearing different colored T-shirts — they eagerly favor their own groups in their attitudes and their actions

Ultimately, his conclusion is that babies have certain innate foundations for morality, but that unselfish, unbiased morality is something that must be developed over time.

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Entry filed under: Research, Social Skills. Tags: , , , .

Fostering Generosity in Kids

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