Are 3-year-olds mind-reading, justice-seeking superheroes?

The puppets and table with its "cave" used during the study.

Story highlights

  • A new study shows 3-year-olds have intuitive empathy and restorative justice
  • Parents can encourage empathy in their children in multiple ways

(CNN)If you want to learn the building blocks of empathy and a sense of justice, just look to the nearest 3-year-old.

While these two traits seem like they might require years of experience and observation to acquire, a new study published in Current Biology reveals that children as young as 3 have a strong sense of restorative justice.
Researchers in Germany observed individual 3- and 5-year-olds in a situation in which they sat at a round table with puppets and a few items, such as cookies or toys. The children had the ability to pull a rope to turn the table. One section of the table was dubbed "the cave," which was inaccessible and could hide the items.
    Different scenarios were introduced: theft, unfairness and loss. These scenarios happened to the child or a puppet. In response, the children were allowed to remove the items by pulling them into the cave or prevent one of the puppets who exhibited one of these scenarios from gaining a reward.