We know babies are born selfish and power-seeking — and we’ve met the Kindergarten Contract Killers. Now we turn our frightened, Panopticonic, eye to the scientific notion that babies are embedded with a moral code: They are born knowing the difference between good and evil.
Researchers devised a ‘one-act morality play’, in which a toy dog tries to open a box. The dog is joined by a teddy bear who helps him lift the lid, and a teddy who stubbornly sits on the box.
They also made the babies watch a puppet cat play ball with two toy rabbits. When the cat rolled the ball to one rabbit, it rolled the ball straight back. But when the cat rolled it to the second rabbit, it picked up the ball and ran off.
‘In both studies, five-month-old babies preferred the good guy – the one who helped to open the box; the one who rolled the ball back – to the bad guy,’ said Professor Bloom.
When the same tests were repeated with 21-month-old babies, they were given a chance to dish out treats to the toys – or take treats away.
Most toddlers punished the ‘naughty rabbit’ by taking away treats. One even gave the miscreant a smack on the head as a punishment.
Now that we know babies are coded to know the difference between right at wrong at the base genetic code level — should children be held responsible for killing and tried for murder and, if found guilty, executed?
If we don’t think children should be punished for murder, what then, should the age of “moral consciousness” begin — in light of this new evidence that discerning between good and evil is as natural to an infant as breathing?
Do we try a five-year-old for murder? An eight-year-old? How do we handle a toddler with a bad attitude, a penknife, and a thirst for seeing people bleed?
Might be time to rewrite some laws. What role do the parents play? Can they change that hardwired morality with their own modeled bad behavior?
If environment plays a role in reconditioning the DNA moral code then, yes, I would say the parents should be held responsible for the immoral behavior of their children. In some ways they are, financially, but if a child murders someone — shouldn’t the parent also be incarcerated as a co-conspirator?
Fascinating study, David! I can’t imagine they would actively change the law based on one study, though! I wonder if people would argue that maybe (if arrested) that their baby or toddler was different and did not need to be arrested for reasons xyz…
It is a slippery slope, Gordon, because this sort of science tempts our common understanding of children and adults by asking, “If babies are born moral, what corrupts them?” Are they making active choices to ignore their inbred morality, or is something more sinister lingering in the mist that remotely, yet directly, deconstructs their basic moral rightness?