The Moral Life of Babies

Babies as young as three months old can make moral judgments about right and wrong.

That is the startling claim by Yale developmental psychologist Paul Bloom in this episode the radio show 7th Ave. Project: The Moral Life of Babies (iTunes, website). Interviewer Robert Pollie talks to him about the work he does with his wife and colleague Karen Wynn and with graduate students at the Yale “baby lab.”

Since young babies can’t fill out psychology questionnaires, Bloom and his colleagues discover what babies think by watching what they look at and for how long. Bloom contends that babies look longer at faces or characters that they like.

With this measurement in mind, researchers show babies  short morality plays. For example, a puppet will try to push something up hill. A “good guy” character will help the puppet, while eight “bad guy” will get in the way. Babies will show approval of the good guy by looking at him longer. Older babies will reach for the good guy. And even older babies will seek to reward the good guy and punish the bad guy.

There’s lots more about the moral life of babies in this great interview.

For more from Paul Bloom, check out his great Introduction to Psychology course at Yale Open Courses (website, iTunes).

Also, Bloom writes about the Moral Life of Babies in the New York Times.

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