Are Moral Behaviors in Babies Innate?

Are Moral Behaviors in Babies Inherited?
Are Moral Behaviors in Babies Inherited?

Humans are a moral species, as well as selfish, with a highly developed sense of right and wrong, good and bad, guilt and punishment. Few things show this better than third-person punishment.

The entire criminal and civil justice system is built around judges and juries who punish criminals who have wronged others, not themselves. The instinct to be punished by third parties emerges early in life, but how early it is is unclear.

We can give an example of preschool children who react to classmates who do not follow a rule or take a toy from someone else. A study on children was published in June in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

Third-party punishing behavior can begin as early as 8 months of age, according to research led by researchers from Osaka University and Otsuma Women's University in Japan. According to experts, this is proof that morality can be innate.

Let's move on to the details of the work.

It is impossible to tell what is going on in the mind of a baby who cannot express himself in his mother tongue by questioning them.

Researchers conducted a study on 8 newborn babies, 24 months old.

In the study, "Anthropomorphism" was used.

What is Anthropomorphism?

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics, emotions, or intentions to non-human beings. It is considered an innate disposition of human psychology.

Personification is the attribution of the human form and characteristics to abstract concepts such as nations, emotions, and natural forces such as seasons and weather.

Both have ancient roots as storytelling and artistic tools, and most cultures have traditional tales with anthropomorphized animals as characters. People have also routinely attributed human emotions and behavioral traits to wild animals as well as domestic animals.

If we go back to our article;

They taught the babies how to play a simple video game in which squared shapes move. This video game consists of a screen interacting with each other. With a special device, where the eyes of the babies went was followed. By watching the shapes move, they discovered a key element of the game. If they lingered on a figure long enough, a square without eyes would fall from the top of the screen and crush it.

After the babies learned this component of the video game, the researchers made things more complicated.

While the babies were staring, one of the squares with eyes would occasionally misbehave, collide with the other, and crash into the edge of the screen.

After a series of such events, the babies began to react. About 75% of them turned their gaze to the criminal and kept it there until the crushing square fell from the sky and destroyed him, thus punishing him for his misconduct.

"The results were shocking," said principal author Yasushiro Kanakogi in a statement accompanying the study's publication. “Preverbal infants chose to punish the antisocial offender by increasing their gaze at the aggressor,” says the researcher.

At least that's what the study suggested, but there were other possibilities. Suppose the newborns did not intend to punish the aggressor; instead, their attention was drawn there, as it was the most active frame on the screen.

To test this concept, the researchers taught another 24 newborns of the same age a game in which one square still fell on the attacker. But he would do so slowly and without crushing or punishing him. When the same test was done under these settings, the infants looked at the perpetrator less consistently. Those who do have dropped to 50% or less.

When the researchers rerun the experiment two more times with two additional groups of 24 newborns each, they achieved similar lower results. In one trial, staring at the wrongdoer caused the smashing square to drop in only half the time, making the penalty less reliable.

In another, the eyes of the character squares were eliminated, making them less human.

In both of these studies, babies looked at the offender significantly less after they misbehaved.

Finally, with the help of a fifth group of newborns, the researchers rerun the original experiment with anthropomorphized squares that were crushed every time babies looked at them.

Babies responded in the same way when they looked at a misbehaving character who was returning to the levels shown on the first try.

It seems that newborns did not always agree with what they observed and acted as judge and jury to correct a mistake.

According to the researchers, the findings show that third-person punishment is more advanced than what is taught and is part of a universal moral grammar that many psychologists and ethicists believe people are innate to.

"Observation of this behavior in newborn children suggests that humans may have developed behavioral tendencies toward moral behavior during development," Kanakogi added in a statement.

"The punishment for antisocial behavior in particular may have evolved as a crucial component of human cooperation."

Source: TIME







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