Last Sunday on 60 Minutes Lesley Stahl did an investigative piece on a Yale baby lab which studies the human condition. The scientists who discovered how to determine a baby’s preferences when he is as young as three months old have been studying whether or not a baby has a sense of right and wrong—in other words, whether they have a sense of morality.
And the answer is, yes, resoundingly.
Wesley chose the good guy [puppet] and he wasn’t alone.
More than three fourths of the babies tested reached for the nice puppet. Wynn tried it out on even younger babies, 3 month olds, who can’t control their arms enough to reach. But they can vote with their eyes, since research has shown that even very young babies look longer at things they like. Daisy here looked at the mean puppet for 5 seconds; then switched to the nice one for 33.
Karen Wynn [Yale researcher]: Babies, even at three months, looked towards the nice character and looked hardly at all, much, much, much shorter times, towards the unhelpful character.
After a series of experiments and statical evidence that shows a trend, Lesley Stahl asked if babies actually had a sense of justice since they seemed to favor punishing puppets that did mean or selfish things. The researcher said yes, at an elemental level.
This, of course, is shocking to behaviorists. Stahl asked the question key question:
Lesley Stahl: So, remember B.F. Skinner, who said that we had to teach our children everything through conditioning. So, does this just wipe him off the map?
Paul Bloom [Yale researcher]: What we’re finding in the baby lab, is that there’s more to it than that — that there’s a universal moral core that all humans share. The seeds of our understanding of justice, our understanding of right and wrong, are part of our biological nature.
Uh, not a blank slate then. Moral beings. But wait a minute. How, then, do we account for evil. Is that learned behavior?
That would appear to be no. Another series of tests showed things like bias toward those most like us and a desire to withhold good even to anonymous other children and even at personal expense. The researchers concluded then that we’re hardwired not only to know good and evil but to choose evil. (And no, they aren’t using those terms that have religious connotations.)
Karen Wynn: In our studies, babies seem as if they do want the other to be punished.
Lesley Stahl: We used to think that we’re taught to hate. I think there was a song like that. This is suggesting that we’re not taught to hate, we’re born to hate.
Karen Wynn: I think, we are built to, you know, at the drop of a hat, create us and them.
Paul Bloom: And that’s why we’re not that moral. We have an initial moral sense that is in some ways very impressive, and in some ways, really depressing — that we see some of the worst biases in adults reflected in the minds and in the behaviors of young babies.
The immoral behavior isn’t limited to bias against those who are different but extends to greed.
The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid —
[Ainsley: I’ll pick green.]
— in some cases, a lot more.
Paul Bloom: The youngest children in the studies are obsessed with social comparison.
[Mark: So you get these seven. She doesn’t get any.
Paul Bloom: They don’t care about fairness. What they want is they want relatively more.
Similar experiments with older children, however, showed a reversal of this trend. Now boys and girls were choosing what was fair and in some cases even sacrificing so the other unknown child would have more. Here’s the conclusion:
Paul Bloom: They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.
So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for — the selfishness, the bias — but he says the instinct is still there.
Paul Bloom: When we have these findings with the kids, the kids who choose this and not this, the kids in the baby studies who favor the one who is similar to them, the same taste and everything — none of this goes away. I think as adults we can always see these and kind of nod.
Lesley Stahl: Yeah. It’s still in us. We’re fighting it.
Paul Bloom: And the truth is, when we’re under pressure, when life is difficult, we regress to our younger selves and all of this elaborate stuff we have on top disappears.
But of course adversity can bring out the best in us too — heroism, selfless sacrifice for strangers — all of which may have its roots right here.
Paul Bloom: Great kindness, great altruism, a magnificent sense of impartial justice, have their seeds in the baby’s mind. Both aspects of us, the good and the bad are the product I think of biological evolution.
Well, sure. Biological evolution.
And yet, this study basically says what the Bible has said about Mankind all along. We are made in God’s image–therefore heroic, kind, altruistic, filled with a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice. And we are fallen so that we have biases and selfishness that no one teaches us. They come from within, from our hearts that are deceitful and, yes, desperately wicked. How much more wicked does it get than to hate? And that’s what those babies in the tests showed.
These Yale studies, by the way, have been written up in professional journals since 2007, so this “discovery” has already been scrutinized by the scientific community.