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Are We Born Good? Here’s What Babies Can Teach Us About Human Morality

Researchers at Yale University have uncovered intriguing evidence that human beings are born with an innate sense of right and wrong. 

A fascinating research study seems to confirm that babies are able to decipher the difference between good and bad behavior from a very early age. Infant cognition researchers at ‘The Baby Lab’, Yale, have found that babies as young as three months old actually understand the difference between ‘mean’ and ‘helpful’ behavior and have a natural instinct to favor the latter.

The studies were conducted by with the help of puppet shows, using various soft toys. Some characters in the play were ‘good’- helping others and being kind- while others were ‘bad’- causing problems and acting selfishly toward their peers. Can a baby distinguish right from wrong? Scientists know that although babies can’t speak, they do tend to use eye contact to express preference. For example, a baby as young as three months old will stare harder and longer at something they like than something they dislike. Using this knowledge, researchers tested the babies’ reactions to the cuddly toys in the puppet show.

Yale psychologist Karen Winn says: “Study after study after study, the results are consistently babies feeling positively towards helpful individuals in the world and disapproving, disliking or condemning individuals who are antisocial.”

Her team’s findings were first published in Nature journal in 2007. Initial evidence was followed up in other peer-reviewed journals and provides an exciting look into what makes humans tick. Winn’s husband, also a member of the Baby Lab team, says that “the seeds of our understanding of right and wrong are part of our biological make-up.”


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