Understanding the Origins of Morality

I saw a really interesting segment on 60 Minutes tonight about using babies to understand the origins of morality. Researchers enacted various scenarios using “good guy” puppets and “bad guy” puppets and then let the babies choose one of the two puppets. Researchers also experimented with punishing “bad guy” puppets and introducing puppets who were like and unlike the babies to see how they reacted.

Another interesting experiment involved older children and the concepts of greed and generosity. The children were faced with two options; in each, the child would receive a certain number of tokens and “some other kid” would receive a certain amount of coins. Given the options of 1. One coin for themselves & no coins for the other kid and 2. Two coins for each of the kids, young kids consistently picked the first option, even though they got fewer coins. The study showed that as children get older, they learn to be more generous and less selfish.

I’m not sure if the researchers’ results are conclusive. The “good guy” and “bad guy” puppets wore different colored shirts. It could be that the babies just favor one color over the other. Or maybe the babies tend to favor puppets on the right instead of the left. There wasn’t enough information about the experiments to see if the researchers considered factors like these. Nevertheless, I found it interesting to watch.

Click the image below to watch the 60 Minutes segment:

Babies help unlock the origins of morality