Human beings may be a savage species when we want to be, but we’re also an exceedingly moral one, with a highly evolved sense of right and wrong, good and bad, crime and consequences. Few things illustrate this better than our practice of third-party punishment: meting out penalties against malefactors who have done us no personal harm. The entire criminal and civil justice system is built around judges and juries punishing offenders who have wronged not them, but another.
An instinct for third-party punishment appears early in life—think of preschoolers tattling on classmates who have broken a rule or taken a toy from someone else—but just how early has been unclear. Now, a study published in June in Nature Human Behavior offers an answer. According to research led by investigators from Osaka University and Otsuma Women’s University, in Japan, third-party punishment behavior may begin in babies as young as 8 months old. The researchers say it’s evidence that morality may be innate.
Since it is impossible to know what’s going on in a pre-verbal baby’s head by asking them, the study involved familiarizing 24 8-month-old babies with a simple video game, in which anthropomorphized shapes—squares with eyes drawn onto them—move about a screen interacting with one another. Where the babies’ own eyes moved was recorded by a gaze-tracking device, and as the babies watched the shapes move, they learned an important feature of the game: if they let their gaze linger on one figure for long enough, a square without eyes would fall from the top of the screen and crush it.
Once the babies had learned that feature of the video game, the researchers made things more complex. Now, as the babies watched, one of the squares with eyes would occasionally misbehave, colliding with another one …read more
Source:: Time – Science