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Do Babies Know Right From Wrong?



I found this article browsing the HuffPost (which I consider to be an extremely liberal source of information, but interesting and useful nonetheless) and thought it was a very interesting line of thought. There is a wide debate always going on about whether humans are born with a knowledge of good and evil, or whether they learn it and develop it over time and as they grow. Before we, and kids too, can scream “that’s not right!” or “that’s not fair!”, we must first know what is right and wrong, correct? A study published last October in PLoS One found that 15-month-old infants could identify unequal distributions of food and drink and that this sense of fairness was connected to their own willingness to share.

“To measure these moral sentiments, researchers first had the children watch movies of an actor distributing food, either equally or unequally, between two people. Most of the toddlers spent more time looking at the unequal outcome, suggesting it surprised them by violating their basic sense of fair­ness. Next, every child picked his or her favorite of two new toys, and the researchers then asked the kids to share one of the toys. Of the infants who shared their favorite toy, 92 percent had also been surprised by the unfair outcome in the videos.”

I went ahead and posted one of the paragraphs that summarizes the main idea and results of this study (above). It does seem to suggest that we do, in some way, know from a very young age about right and wrong and what is fair. Is this our own sense of justice and well-being? Do we already know from a young age that we must fight for and demand what is ours? Scientists previously thought that this age of such recognition was around seven or eight, but anyone with younger siblings, myself included, can attest to the fact that they start screaming for their own equal portions as soon as they can talk! Do you guys also believe that our sense of recognition of right and wrong, and just and unjust, develops nearly as early as we can start to reason with our minds? I, for one, have seen plenty of personal evidence that it does.


  1. April 9, 2012 at 2:52 am

    It seems you beat me to the punch on this one…I was just on the same site, and I was at least going to steal the cute baby for another post.

    But I actually found the point about altruism more interesting, although that discussion seems to take back stage to the points you’ve highlighted here. It’s always been my conviction that we as humans must be inherently altruistic, and not just for the survival of our own species–after all, mothers of other species will frequently take on orphaned juveniles, even from other species, which seems to be antithetical to everything we’ve been taught in the way of Darwnist survival. There’s an argument to be made that, say, a gazelle will sacrifice itself rather than to allow the whole herd to be eaten by the lion in order to ensure greater diversity in the gene pool, but what about when it’s for another species? What are the implications this has on the survival-of-the-fittest assumption we so universally accept, and, indeed, on human civilization?

  2. April 9, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    I do believe that we are born with some way of knowing what is right and wrong but our environment influences this way of knowing from the beginning. Our parents, where we live, what we see on TV, what we hear etc. influence what we bleive is right and wrong from when we are very young. We are influenced much easier when we are young and therefore we grow up believing certain things. Media influences us much more than we realize. Our parents are the other main factor. As soon as we start to reason with our minds, we start to understand what is right and wrong. We start to understand TV, and the actions of our parents.

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