Are Babies Born Good? New Research Offers Surprising Answers to the Age-Old Question of Where Morality Comes From
Every parent recalls feeding an infant-the laughing, smiling and cooing as the infant eats the Cheerios proffered by mom or dad. In tine, there is a ritual which must be performed before the child will eat.. Funny faces, the spoon as airplane and babies mouth as a garage are but a few.
And then a monumental event in the development of the child occurs. One day, in the midst of feeding, the child proffers a morsel to the parent. In what seems like an instant, the child becomes aware of his or her capacity to please/satisfy the parent. The significance of this cannot be overstated. A child’s earliest thoughts are ‘me’. Feed me, hold, me, change me, etc. Now, the child becomes aware of the other.
But what if there were more to this behavior? What if the behavior is not simple but the result of very complex processes? What if babies can count? Suppose babies were sophisticated enough to determine our moods? What if babies were able to discern right from wrong and good from bad?
There are a whole lot of researchers who believe just that. In fact there are a lot of scientists who believe babies hard hardwired for certain positive (helpful) social interactions. In fact. a strong case can be made that as man evolved the need for social interactions took primacy of the needs of physical interactions.
Of course, the science isn’t so neat and orderly.
What kind of a role does culture play in the social evolution of babies (if any)? While the innate desire to help/get along may be there under what circumstances are they manifested and when are they withheld? What can we do to enhance these characteristics to help and share and what are we doing that might impede them?
No simple answers to these fascinating questions. One thing is certain- there will be a firestorm of debate and controversy surrounding this new and ongoing research.
Arber Tasimi is a 23-year-old researcher at Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center, where he studies the moral inclinations of babies—how the littlest children understand right and wrong, before language and culture exert their deep influence.”What are we at our core, before anything, before everything?” he asks. His experiments draw on the work of Jean Piaget, Noam Chomsky, his own undergraduate thesis at the University of Pennsylvania and what happened to him in New Haven, Connecticut, one Friday night last February.
It was about 9:45 p.m., and Tasimi and a friend were strolling home from dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. Just a few hundred feet from his apartment building, he passed a group of young men in jeans and hoodies. Tasimi barely noticed them, until one landed a punch to the back of his head.
There was no time to run. The teenagers, ignoring his friend, wordlessly surrounded Tasimi, who had crumpled to the brick sidewalk. “It was seven guys versus one aspiring PhD,” he remembers. “I started counting punches, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Somewhere along the way, a knife came out.” The blade slashed through his winter coat, just missing his skin.
At last the attackers ran, leaving Tasimi prone and weeping on the sidewalk, his left arm broken. Police later said he was likely the random victim of a gang initiation.
After surgeons inserted a metal rod in his arm, Tasimi moved back home with his parents in Waterbury, Connecticut, about 35 minutes from New Haven, and became a creature much like the babies whose social lives he studies. He couldn’t shower on his own. His mom washed him and tied his shoes. His sister cut his meat.
Spring came. One beautiful afternoon, the temperature soared into the 70s and Tasimi, whose purple and yellow bruises were still healing, worked up the courage to stroll outside by himself for the first time. He went for a walk on a nearby jogging trail. He tried not to notice the two teenagers who seemed to be following him. “Stop catastrophizing,” he told himself again and again, up until the moment the boys demanded his headphones.