Do babies (3-5 months old) know the difference between right and wrong? Or are they taught morality by caregivers?
In order to clear up this debate and get an answer, psychologists went to the experts themselves, babies. In this study, researchers looked for the first signs of morality.
A baby (5 months old) sat and watched a puppet show. The baby watched puppet A struggle to open up a box. Then, the baby watched puppet B go over and help puppet A open the box.
The puppet show restarts. Again, the baby watches puppet A struggle to open up the box. But, this time, puppet C jumps in and slams the box shut on puppet A.
When the puppet show ends, an instructor presents puppet B and puppet C to the baby. And, asks, “Who do you like?”
Results showed that 75% of the babies chose puppet B, or the nice puppet. Babies at 5 months old reached towards the nice puppet. And, babies at 3 months old made longer eye contact at puppet B. One baby spent 33 seconds looking at puppet B and spent 5 seconds looking at puppet C.
Based on the results, it can be argued that even as young as three months old, humans have a preference for nice people over mean people.
And, this concept has been repeated by several other researchers who can agree on similar results. In another study, 100% of six month olds and 88% of ten month olds had a preference for the nice puppet (J.K. Hamlin, K. Wynn, & P. Bloom, 2007).
Babies are born with an innate sense of justice.
Two monkeys were paid unequally. Do you think they will notice?
An experiment by researcher, Frans de Waal studied how monkeys react to being paid unequally for a task. This study measured fairness.
Monkeys were placed in cages side by side. A researcher placed a rock in each of their cages and the task was to hand back the rock. In return, the monkeys were rewarded with a cucumber. Both monkeys did the task and received a cucumber. They were happy to complete the task as many times as the researcher presented it and ate the cucumber.
The researcher ran the experiment again. But, this time rewarded the monkeys differently. One monkey was given a cucumber while the other monkey was given a grape. The other monkey that didn’t get the grape realized it did not get equal pay. So, the monkey threw the cucumber out of its cage. Then, the monkey angrily shook the bars of the cage. Indicating to the researcher that they too wanted a grape.
Both of these experiments teach us that morality is rooted in both humans and primates (monkeys // chimpanzees).
Evolution has shown that time and time again, animals and other species (dogs, ants, bees, termites, chimpanzees) follow moral-like rules in order to protect one another. There is a built in sense of morality to protect, to share, to have equality, to show empathy, to care for others and to self-sacrifice. These same traits are also found in humans. Who protect family members. And, who help strangers and their communities.
Evolutionary theorists believe humans began acting prosocially several million years ago. And, they formed informal systems of social interaction (Van Vugut & Van Lange, 2006). Humans did to others as they wished to be treated. In hopes to limit selfishness and increase survival and reproduction.
How can you help your child acquire moral behavior?
Children acquire moral behavior through modeling and reinforcement. Using good models of moral behavior are most influential during early years. As a parent or caregiver, it is important to show…
Warmth and responsiveness (younger children are more likely to imitate prosocial behavior from adults who are warm and responsive compared to adults who are cold and distant) Yarrow, Scott & Waxler, 1973
Competence and power (children tend to imitate adults who appear to be more knowledgeable and influential) Bandura, 1977
Consistency between assertions and behavior (children notice when adults say one thing and do the other. For example, an adult says, “You should help others” but doesn’t demonstrate that behavior in their own life) Mischel & Liebert, 1996
In order for a prosocial behavior (sharing, helping or comforting) to be reinforced, it first has to happen on its own. It needs to happen naturally. But, when it does, the behavior should be reinforced in order to help the child acquire moral behavior.
Let me be clear, CHILDREN WATCH WHAT YOU DO AND SAY. They acquire moral behavior by observing actions from adults.
When you consistently praise a child for good moral behaviors, it increases the likelihood of them repeating the action. So, the next time you catch your child sharing or helping, reinforce it by saying, “That was so nice of you!” or “Awesome job sharing your toy!”