The moral life of babies

Nature vs nurture ... Study shows babies are born with some sense of good and evil. Photo:
Nature vs nurture ... Study shows babies are born with some sense of good and evil. Photo: Photo: Natalie Boog

Babies are able to tell good from evil from the age of six months, a study has suggested.

Researchers from the Infant Cognition Centre at Yale University in the US asked infants of various ages to choose between characters that they had seen behaving well or badly, and found they overwhelmingly favoured the ''good'' characters.

The research contradicts the belief promoted by psychologists such as Sigmund Freud that babies are born ''amoral animals'' and acquire a sense of right and wrong through conditioning.

In one experiment, babies aged between six months and a year watched an animated film in which a ball with eyes tries to climb a hill while a square tries to help push it up and a triangle tries to force it back down.

At the end of the film, scientists tested which shape the babies favoured by measuring how long they spent looking at a picture of each one. In 80 per cent of cases, the babies chose the helpful character over the unhelpful one.

Paul Bloom, the psychologist who heads the study team, said: ''Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone.''

Telegraph, London

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