Thursday, December 27, 2012

So, you gave presents and you received presents and now what? Well, at least the process of gift giving made you reflect on who was worth the bother and who wasn’t. How do we make judgmental calls like that? What is about us that makes us decide who we love and who we hate? When do we even know what love and hate is? How can people kill people they don’t even know? I guess that is what wars are all about and war has been around as long as people have been around.
So, are humans good people? Are we born with a sense of morality? Or are we blank slates waiting for our parents to teach us right from wrong? Maybe we are born nasty devils and have to be taught to be kind and gentle? Most movies now are telling us that it is fun to be vile. That Ted movie teaches our kids go ahead use the F word and others as often as you like and watch the DVD as often as you like too.
Our most popular video games say Gear Up For War and kill everyone in your sight as quickly as you can and now in view of recent disasters people are learning evil real fast. Do we need our parents, teachers and religions to whip us into shape? Well, lots of kids don’t even have parents around the house to even try. Most of them are out working stupid jobs just to pay the taxes.
Well the only way to know when the morals kick in is to ask a baby and now some professors have managed to find a way to understand what exactly are those tiny adorable heads are thinking about. Babies don’t do much. They can’t talk, can’t write and can’t express their moral philosophies but through certain experiments we have recently found out a lot about babies.
The great philosopher Rousseau thought that babies were perfect idiots that knew nothing and so was the opinion of babies for many years. There is a place called The Baby Lab, The Infant Cognition Center at Yale University directed by Karen Wynn a Psychologist who has managed to get into those tiny heads without Frankenstein electrons stuck to their heads and found out the moral fabric of babies through puppetry. Yes puppets and stuffed animals that attract all babies attention.
Try it. Get a stuffed animal or make a puppet out of a sock and watch those adorable eyes of a baby focus and look squarely at the figure. Does a 5 month old know the difference between right and wrong? Well, when doing a puppet show where one stuffed animal was behaving nicely and another was behaving badly in the study the child focused on the good puppet for 33 seconds and only looked at the bad puppet for 5 seconds. So, as young as 3 months old we as humans show a preference of nice people over nasty people.
Study after study on different children came back with good results. They even condemned puppets that were anti-social to others. Their findings were published in Nature Magazine with their article exploring social evaluation by proverbial infants in 2007. They continued with more evaluations throughout the years.
81% of 5 month old children preferred a stuffed animal that was robed of a ball than the stuffed animal who got the ball. Even though that stuffed animal came with a ball too, the babies wanted to hold the toy that was sad that he lost the ball. The experiments show that babies are born with an innate sense of justice and compassion. It is the foundation for all morality.
We have found that what we thought was an ignorant and unknowing baby is really an alarming creature with lots of subtle knowledge. Discovering this in babies that can’t walk or talk yet or even crawl yet suggests that we must be born with morality. The core of all humans share the understanding of right or wrong as part of our biological nature. So, where does all the evil come from in the world?
Bias. A 7 month old child preferred cheerios over graham crackers. The stuffed animal who also preferred the cheerios became the toy of choice for the child in hundreds of sample kids. They had positive feelings for the toy that was just like them. 87% of the kids tested even did not want anyone to bother with the toy that didn’t like what they liked. This bias was seen in the fact that infants prefer to harm others that are unlike them.
We used to think that we were taught to hate. We are born to hate and at the drop of a hat we can create us vs. them. Welcome to our humanity I think.

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