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Babies want to do good, but they also want to do well

By Arber Tasimi
updated 10:08 PM EST, Sun February 16, 2014
ac pkg cooper baby lab part 2_00021230.jpg
ac pkg cooper baby lab part 2_00021230.jpg
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It seems that a moral sense is deeply rooted in us.
  • It is entirely possible that babies are so self-interested that they will ignore the character's wrongdoing.
  • Babies will often avoid the bad guy even at a cost.
  • Babies are willing to "deal with the devil".

(CNN) -- I am often asked why I spend my days performing puppet shows for babies. Along with many others, I think that understanding what we are like before the extensive influences of language, learning, and culture could shed light on our human nature. And, on the basis of research carried out at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale, it seems that a moral sense is deeply rooted in us.

Morality is already a fascinating topic on its own, but perhaps even more interesting is the tension it often creates with our other motives and values. On the one hand, we want to be good -- we want to be helpful and compassionate. On the other hand, we want to do well -- we want to profit and maximize our own gains. These competing desires framed a study I have done in collaboration with my advisor, Karen Wynn, which recently aired on AC360.

Our preliminary question was a simple one: When two characters offer babies different amounts of crackers, do babies take the larger offering? Unsurprisingly, they do. Our next question was a bit more complex: Do babies continue to choose the larger amount when a mean character offers more than a nice one? It is entirely possible that babies are so self-interested that they will ignore the character's wrongdoing and choose to accept his larger offering. Babies, however, do care, so much that they will often avoid the bad guy, even at a cost. But, it matters how large the cost is -- if the mean character's offering is substantially larger than the nice character's, babies are willing to "deal with the devil".

What this shows is that adults are not the only ones experiencing moral dilemmas -- babies do too. These findings pull back the curtain on many exciting questions. Until we have answered them, I will be spending more time behind the stage.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

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