At the age of six months babies can barely sit up – let along take
their first tottering steps, crawl or talk.
But, according to psychologists, they have already developed a
sense of moral code – and can tell the difference between good and
An astonishing series of experiments is challenging the views of
many psychologists and social scientists that human beings are born
as ‘blank slates’ – and that our morality is shaped by our parents
Instead, they suggest that the difference between good and bad
may be hardwired into the brain at birth.
In one experiment involving puppets, babies aged six months old
showed a strong preference to ‘good’ helpful characters – and rejected
unhelpful, ‘naughty’ ones.
In another, they even acted as judge and jury. When asked to take
away treats from a ‘naughty’ puppet, some babies went further – and dished out their own punishment with a smack on its head.
Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University in Connecticut,
whose department has studied morality in babies for years, said:
‘A growing body of evidence suggests that humans do have a rudimentary
moral sense from the very start of life.
‘With the help of well designed experiments, you can see glimmers
of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first
year of life.
‘Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bones.’
For one study, the Yale researchers got babies aged between six
months and a year to watch a puppet show in which a simple, colourful
wooden shape with eyes tries to climb a hill.
Sometimes the shape is helped up the hill by a second toy, while
other times a third character pushes it down.
After watching the show several times, the babies were shown the
helpful and unhelpful toys. They showed a clear preference for the
helpful toys – spending far longer looking at the ‘good’ shapes
than the ‘bad’ ones.