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Babies Understand “Good” vs “Bad”

In my house I’ve always been so careful not to set up a “good” versus “bad” dichotomy.  After a movie we always discuss the reasons why the “bad guys” do the things they do.  I don’t want my kids to see things black and white and I want them to understand that there is usually a reason why people act the way they do.

I try not to say “good boy”, or tell them something they’ve done is “bad”.  My theory and hope is that they will learn to make their own judgements about how things should be and how people act.  A new study has shown that this understanding may not be learned at all; babies may in fact be born with the ability to evaluate behaviour and punishment for “bad” behaviour.

A UBC-led study shows that babies as young as eight months old want to see bad puppets punished for anti-social behaviour. (UBC)
A UBC-led study shows that babies as young as eight months old want to see bad puppets punished for anti-social behaviour. (UBC)
Researchers used puppets to display kindness, by giving a toy, or ill-will, by taking a toy, from another puppet.  They then saw puppets rewarding or punishing the puppets for their deeds.  The babies were then asked to pick their favourite puppet and the babies preferred those that punished the “bad” puppet.  Scientists believe that the fact that such young babies want to see those who are “bad” punished means that we must be born with an instinctive moral-sense.  Hard to believe that before many babies can crawl they are already able to evaluate and judge complex social interactions.

I find it interesting that the instinct to judge punishment is already hardwired to be fairly black and white and I wonder if the way I’ve been modeling morality is a loosing battle.  Maybe that is just the way children understand social interaction during these young years and all my effort to keep “good” and “bad” out of the equation won’t matter.  Afterall, don’t we as adults want to see the “bad guys” punished in the movies too?  But I guess that is my job as a parent, to raise children that are able to see the complexities and to think beyond basic instinct.

The CBC article can be found here.

– Kaarina