Psychologist Paul Bloom discusses the moral lives of children. —By Indre Viskontas
'At the playground, I watch my 10-month-old son beeline to the center
of the sandbox where there is a bright pink shovel. But before he gets
there, a rambunctious 2-year-old snatches up the coveted toy first. As
my son watches the shovel slip away, a wobbly 14-month-old comes over
and offers him a half-chewed cookie. I tear up a bit at this random act
of kindness. It's probably just "hormones," but I am touched by the
empathy that this little person is showing my child.
'What caused this toddler to "do the right thing" and show kindness to
a stranger? Was it good parenting or an innate personality trait?
That's the mystery that cognitive scientist Paul Bloom, author of the
recent book Just Babies,
is working hard to figure out: Can the youngest of our species
distinguish good from evil practically from birth—or does morality need
to be taught?
'Philosophers like John Locke and psychologists like Sigmund Freud
took for granted that we are born with a blank moral slate. But Bloom
rejects that. He argues that babies actually have a natural sense of
morality and fairness—one that simply emerges, like many other
developmental milestones. "I think all babies are created equal in that
all normal babies—all babies without brain damage—possess some basic
foundational understanding of morality and some foundational moral
impulses," says Bloom on the Inquiring Minds podcast. "They're
equal in the same way that all babies come with a visual system, and the
ability to move around, and a propensity to learn language."
'Bloom thinks this sense of morality emerged via Darwinian evolution,
just like every other adaptive trait that marks our species. But how can
he tell? How does one study morality in babies who can't wax poetic?
Scientists have come up with several clever solutions to break the
'"The way we do it here at Yale," says Bloom, "is we show babies
one-act plays." These one-acts, playing at the Yale lab run by Karen
Wynn, who is Bloom's colleague and wife, star puppets who model
behaviors that we would label as naughty or nice. Similar experiments
are being conducted at the Center for Infant Cognition at the University of British Columbia, where Wynn's former graduate student, Kiley Hamlin, now runs her own lab.'
more here and videos