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                             Are Babies Born Good?

   New research offers surprising answers to the age-old question of where
   morality comes from

   Abigail Tucker
   January 2013

   Babies Because they have barely been exposed to the world, children are
   some of psychology's most powerful muses. JIll Greenberg

   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.

   The mugging wasn't violent but it broke his spirit. Now the whole world
   seemed menacing. When he at last resumed his morality studies at the
   Infant Cognition Center, he parked his car on the street, feeding the
   meter every few hours rather than risking a shadowy parking garage.

   "I've never been this low in life," he told me when we first met at the
   baby lab a few weeks after the second crime. "You can't help wonder:
   Are we a failed species?"

   At times, he said, "only my research gives me hope."


   The study of babies and young toddlers is a perplexing business. Even
   the most perceptive observers can be tempted to see what isn't there.
   "When our infant was only four months old I thought that he tried to
   imitate sounds; but I may have deceived myself," Charles Darwin wrote
   in "A Biographical Sketch of an Infant," his classic study of his own
   son. Babies don't reliably control their bodies or communicate well, if
   at all, so their opinions can't be solicited through ordinary means.
   Instead, researchers outfit them with miniature wire skullcaps to
   monitor their brain waves, scrutinize them like shoplifters through
   video cameras and two-way mirrors, and conduct exceedingly clever and
   tightly controlled experiments, which a good portion of their subjects
   will refuse to sit through anyway. Even well-behaved babies are
   notoriously tough to read: Their most meditative expressions are often
   the sign of an impending bowel movement.

   But tiny children are also some of psychology's most powerful muses.
   Because they have barely been exposed to the world, with its convoluted
   cultures and social norms, they represent the raw materials of
   humanity: who we are when we're born, rather than who we become.
   Benjamin Spock's famous book, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, "starts
   out with the sentence `You know more than you think you do,'" says
   Melvin Konner, an Emory University anthropologist and physician and the
   author of The Evolution of Childhood. "There's another point that needs
   to be made to parents: Your baby knows more than you think she knows.
   That's what's coming out of this kind of research."

   The 1980s and '90s brought a series of revelations about very young
   babies' sophisticated perceptions of the physical world, suggesting
   that we come to life equipped with quite an extensive tool kit. (Can
   5-month-olds count? Absolutely. Do they understand simple physics?
   Yes.) Recently, some labs have turned to studying infants' inborn
   social skills, and how babies perceive and assess other people's goals
   and intentions. Scrutinizing these functions, scientists hope, will
   reveal some innate features of our minds--"the nutshell of our nature,"
   says Karen Wynn, director of the Yale lab.

   "People who've spent their whole careers studying perception are now
   turning toward social life, because that's where the bio-behavioral
   rubber meets the evolutionary road," Konner says. "Natural selection
   has operated as much or more on social behavior as on more basic things
   like perception. In our evolution, survival and reproduction depended
   more and more on social competence as you went from basic mammals to
   primates to human ancestors to humans."

   The Yale Infant Cognition Center is particularly interested in one of
   the most exalted social functions: ethical judgments, and whether
   babies are hard-wired to make them. The lab's initial study along these
   lines, published in 2007 in the journal Nature, startled the scientific
   world by showing that in a series of simple morality plays, 6- and
   10-month-olds overwhelmingly preferred "good guys" to "bad guys." "This
   capacity may serve as the foundation for moral thought and action," the
   authors wrote. It "may form an essential basis for...more abstract
   concepts of right and wrong."

   The last few years produced a spate of related studies hinting that,
   far from being born a "perfect idiot," as Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued,
   or a selfish brute, as Thomas Hobbes feared, a child arrives in the
   world provisioned with rich, broadly pro-social tendencies and seems
   predisposed to care about other people. Children can tell, to an
   extent, what is good and bad, and often act in an altruistic fashion.
   "Giving Leads to Happiness in Young Children," a study of
   under-2-year-olds concluded. "Babies Know What's Fair" was the upshot
   of another study, of 19- and 21-month-olds. Toddlers, the new
   literature suggests, are particularly equitable. They are natural
   helpers, aiding distressed others at a cost to themselves, growing
   concerned if someone shreds another person's artwork and divvying up
   earnings after a shared task, whether the spoils take the form of
   detested rye bread or precious Gummy Bears.

   This all sounds like cheering news for humanity, especially parents who
   nervously chant "share, share, share" as their children navigate the
   communal toy box. Indeed, some of these studies suggest that children's
   positive social inclinations are so deeply ingrained that it doesn't
   matter what parents say or do: A Harvard experiment, nicknamed "The Big
   Mother Study" (as in Big Mother Is Watching You), showed that small
   children helped others whether or not a parent commanded them to help
   or was even present.

   These findings may seem counterintuitive to anyone who has seen
   toddlers pull hair in a playground tunnel or pistol-whip one another
   with a plastic triceratops. Day to day, babies can seem unfeeling and
   primitive, or at the very least unfathomably bizarre, afraid of donkeys
   one minute and the moon the next, their prismatic minds beaming
   nonsense and non sequiturs instead of the secrets of our higher nature.
   No seasoned parent can believe that nurture doesn't make a difference,
   or that nature trumps all. The question is where the balance lies.

   "Where morality comes from is a really hard problem," says Alison
   Gopnik, a developmental psychologist at the University of California at
   Berkeley. "There isn't a moral module that is there innately. But the
   elements that underpin morality--altruism, sympathy for others, the
   understanding of other people's goals--are in place much earlier than
   we thought, and clearly in place before children turn 2."


   Though housed in a stern stone edifice on the Yale campus, the baby
   cognition lab is a happy nest of an office with a comfy couch, meant to
   be torn apart by one tornado of a toddler after another, and huge,
   sunlight-streaming windows, through which researchers spy on
   approaching strollers. Ranging in age from 3 months to 2 years, the
   visiting infants are elaborately received by staff members who crawl
   around on the floor with them while parents sign consent forms. (A
   little-known expense of this line of research is the cost of new pants:
   The knees wear out fast.) In the back room, the atmosphere is less
   cozy. There's lots of weird stuff lying around: plastic molds of
   Cheerios, houseplants that have been spray-painted silver.

   Infant morality studies are so new that the field's grand dame is
   29-year-old J. Kiley Hamlin, who was a graduate student at the Yale lab
   in the mid-2000s. She was spinning her wheels for a thesis project when
   she stumbled on animated presentations that one of her predecessors had
   made, in which a "climber" (say, a red circle with goggle eyes)
   attempted to mount a hill, and a "helper" (a triangle in some trials)
   assisted him, or a "hinderer" (a square) knocked him down. Previous
   infant research had focused on other aspects of the interaction, but
   Hamlin wondered if a baby observing the climber's plight would prefer
   one interfering character over another.

   "As adults, we like the helper and don't like the hinderer," says
   Hamlin, now an assistant professor at the University of British
   Columbia. "We didn't think babies would do that too. It was just like,
   `Let's give it a try because Kiley's a first-year graduate student and
   she doesn't know what she's doing.'"

   Wynn and her husband, the psychologist Paul Bloom, collaborated on much
   of Hamlin's research, and Wynn remembers being a bit more optimistic:
   "Do babies have attitudes, render judgments? I just found that to be a
   very intuitively gripping question," she says. "If we tend to think of
   babies being born and developing attitudes in the world as a result of
   their own experiences, then babies shouldn't be responding [to the
   scenarios]. But maybe we are built to identify in the world that some
   things are good and some things are not, and some helpful and positive
   social interaction is to be approved of and admired."

   In fact, 6- and 10-month-old babies did seem to have strong natural
   opinions about the climbing scenarios: They passionately preferred the
   helper to the hinderer, as assessed by the amount of time they spent
   looking at the characters. This result "was totally surreal," Hamlin
   says--so revolutionary that the researchers themselves didn't quite
   trust it. They designed additional experiments with plush animal
   puppets helping and hindering each other; at the end babies got the
   chance to reach for the puppet of their choice. "Basically every single
   baby chose the nice puppet," Hamlin remembers.

   Then they tested 3-month-old infants. The researchers couldn't ask the
   infants to reach for the puppets, because 3-month-olds can't reliably
   reach, so they tracked the subjects' eye movements instead. These
   infants, too, showed an aversion to the hinderer.

   When I visited, Tasimi was recreating versions of Hamlin's puppet shows
   as background work for a new project.

   The son of Albanian restaurateurs, Tasimi likes to say that his parents
   would "prefer that I merely produce babies, instead of study them."
   Friends joke that he attends Yale to be a puppeteer. Though it's
   decidedly unfashionable in the developmental field to admit that one
   enjoys the company of babies, Tasimi clearly does. He'd only been back
   at work for a few days, and he often looked agonized when we walked
   outside, but in the lab he grinned broadly. When one of his subjects
   blew a blizzard of raspberries, he whispered: "The best/worst thing
   about this job is you want to laugh, but you can't."

   He needed 16 compliant 12- or 13-month-olds to complete a preliminary
   study, and I happened to have one handy, so I brought her along.

   The experiment was called "Crackerz." My OshKosh-clad daughter sat on
   her dad's lap; his eyes were closed, so he wouldn't influence her
   decisions. I was watching behind the scenes alongside three other
   adults: one who worked the puppet show curtain and squeaked a rubber
   toy to get the baby's attention, one who tracked the baby's focus so a
   bell sounded when it drifted, and Tasimi, the puppeteer, who managed to
   make the plush characters dance around winsomely despite the metal rod
   in his ulna. The whole production had the avant-garde feel of black-box
   theater: intentionally primitive, yet hyperprofessional.

   First, two identical stuffed bunnies, one in a green shirt and the
   other in orange, appeared on stage with plates of graham crackers.
   "Mmmm, yum!" they said. The curtain fell. This was the equivalent of
   the opening sonnet in a Shakespeare play, a sort of framing device for
   what followed.

   The curtain rose again. A lamb puppet appeared onstage, struggling to
   open a plastic box with a toy inside. The orange bunny flounced over
   and slammed the lid shut. My child flinched at this, though it was hard
   to say if it was the sound of the slamming or the rabbit's nastiness
   that spooked her. Her brow furrowed. Then she got bored. A bell dinged
   after she looked away from the scene for two seconds, and the curtain

   It soon rose again: Cue the green bunny. Instead of foiling the lamb's
   plans, he helped lift the lid of the toy box. The baby stared, drummed
   plump fingers on the table for a moment, then looked away. The curtain

   This scenario was repeated six times, so the baby would grasp what she
   was seeing, but the green bunny was always nice and the orange bunny
   was always mean. At the curtain call, the lab manager emerged with the
   two puppets. Each offered the baby a graham cracker. I was about to
   tell the experimenters that my daughter had never even seen a graham
   cracker and was an extremely picky eater when she grabbed the treat
   from the nice bunny, as most of the previous babies had done. I felt an
   unwarranted surge of parental pride. I was not alone in my delight.

   "She chose the good guy!" Tasimi said. "After all that, she chose the
   good guy."


   When babies at the Yale lab turn 2, their parents are tactfully invited
   to return to the university after the child's third birthday.
   Researchers tend to avoid that event horizon of toddlerhood, the
   terrible twos. Renowned for their tantrums, 2-year-olds are tough to
   test. They speak, but not well, and while active they're not
   particularly coordinated.

   But not all researchers shun 2-year-olds. The next lab I visited was at
   Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it has made this
   age group something of a specialty, through work on toddler altruism (a
   phrase that, admittedly, rings rather hollow in parental ears).

   One advantage of testing slightly older babies and children is that
   they are able to perform relatively complicated tasks. In the
   Laboratory for Developmental Studies, the toddlers don't watch puppets
   help: They themselves are asked to help.

   The chief scientist is Felix Warneken, another young researcher, though
   not one whose appearance initially telegraphs baby scientist. He stands
   6-foot-6. He usually greets children from the floor, playing with them
   before standing up at the last possible moment. "Only then do they
   realize they've been dealing with a giant," Warneken says. He usually
   wore the same red sweater in all his experiments, because he thinks
   kids like it. In addition to designing groundbreaking studies, he has
   also dreamed up several toys to reward or distract subjects, including
   an ingenious device he calls a jingle box: An angled xylophone
   concealed in a cardboard container, it makes a thrilling sound when
   wooden blocks are dropped inside.

   Warneken was initially interested in how little children read the
   intentions of others, and the question of whether toddlers would assist
   others in reaching their goals. He wanted to sound out these behaviors
   in novel helping experiments--"accidentally" dropping a hat, for
   instance, and seeing if the kids would return it.

   But while this was an interesting idea in principle, his advisers at
   the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany said
   it was quite impossible in practice. Once toddlers got their hot little
   hands on a desirable object, Warneken was told, "they'll just hold onto
   it, and there's no way they'll give it back." Besides, prominent
   psychologists had previously argued that children are selfish until
   they are socialized; they acquire altruistic behaviors only as
   childhood progresses and they are rewarded for following civilization's
   rules, or punished for breaking them.

   Warneken put the notion on hold while he studied other aspects of
   toddler cooperation. One day he and a toddler were bouncing a ball
   together. Truly by accident, the ball rolled away--"the moment of
   serendipity," as Warneken now calls it. His first impulse was to
   retrieve the toy and carry on, but he stopped himself. Instead, he
   stayed where he was, pretending to strain for the ball, though he was
   barely extending his incredibly long arms. The little boy watched him
   struggle, then after a moment heaved himself up, waddled over to the
   toy and--defying the scientific community's uncharitable
   expectations--stretched out his own chubby little arm to hand the ball
   to his gigantic playmate.

   In the following months, Warneken designed experiments for
   18-month-olds, in which a hapless adult (often played by him) attempted
   to perform a variety of tasks, to no avail, as the toddlers looked on.
   The toddlers gallantly rescued Warneken's dropped teaspoons and
   clothespins, stacked his books and pried open stubborn cabinet doors so
   he could reach inside.

   "Eighteen-month-old children would help across these different
   situations, and do it very spontaneously," he says. "They are clever
   helpers. It is not something that's been trained, and they readily come
   to help without prompting or without being rewarded."

   The children even help when it's a personal burden. Warneken showed me
   a videotaped experiment of a toddler wallowing in a wading pool full of
   plastic balls. It was clear that he was having the time of his life.
   Then a klutzy experimenter seated at a nearby desk dropped her pen on
   the floor. She seemed to have great trouble recovering it and made
   unhappy sounds. The child shot her a woebegone look before dutifully
   hauling himself out of the ball pit, picking up the pen and returning
   it to the researcher. At last he felt free to belly flop into the ball
   pit once more, unaware that, by helping another at a cost to himself,
   he had met the formal definition of altruism.

   Because they were manifested in 18-month-olds, Warneken believed that
   the helping behaviors might be innate, not taught or imitated. To test
   his assumption, he turned to one of our two nearest primate relatives,
   the chimpanzee. Intellectually, an adult chimp and a 2-year-old are
   evenly matched: They have roughly equivalent tool-using skills and
   memories and perform the same in causal learning tests.

   The first chimps Warneken studied, nursery-raised in a German zoo, were
   comfortable with select people. He replaced objects alien to chimps
   (such as pens) with familiar materials like the sponges that caretakers
   use to clean the facilities. Warneken waited in the hallway, watching
   through a camera, as the caretaker dropped the first object: As if on
   cue, the chimp bounded over and breezily handed it back. "I was
   freaking out!" Warneken remembers. "I couldn't believe my eyes, that
   they would do that. I was going crazy!"

   Once the euphoria faded, Warneken wondered if perhaps human-reared
   chimps had been conditioned to be helpful to their food providers. So
   he arranged for others to conduct a version of the test at the Ngamba
   Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda, where semi-wild chimps live. In
   the experiment, two researchers appeared to argue fiercely over a
   stick: The winner of the fight puts the stick out of the loser's reach,
   and he pines for it as a chimp watches. The chimp has to decide whether
   to hand the prized possession through the bars of the cage to the
   vanquished party. Many did.

   "The expectation was that initially the chimps might help, but when
   they don't receive a reward the helping should drop off over time,"
   Warneken says. "But there was no such pattern. They would consistently
   help when the person was reaching for the object," even in the absence
   of any payoff.

   Maybe the animals would aid people under any circumstances, assuming a
   reward would come their way down the line. The final step was to see if
   chimps would assist each other. So Warneken rigged apparatuses where
   one caged chimp could help a neighbor reach an inaccessible banana or
   piece of watermelon. There was no hope of getting a bite for
   themselves, yet the empowered chimps fed their fellow apes regardless.

   Warneken's chimp work makes the case that human altruism is a trait
   that evolution has apparently endowed us with at birth. But under what
   circumstances are toddlers altruistic? Some recent chimp studies
   suggest that chimps won't help others unless they witness the dismay of
   the creature in need. Are human children likewise "reactive" helpers,
   or can they come to another's assistance without social cues? Warneken
   created a scenario in which a clueless experimenter fools around with a
   bunch of milk cans at a table as a 2-year-old looks on. Unbeknown to
   the adult, some cans start to roll off the edge.

   The experimenter doesn't ask the toddler for help: She doesn't even
   realize that a problem exists. Yet many of the children tested read the
   situation correctly and rushed to her aid, often yelling "Your can
   fell!" with great alacrity before handing it back. "You can see the
   birth of this proactive helping behavior from around 1.5 to 2.5 years
   of age," Warneken explains. "The children don't need solicitation for
   helping. They do it voluntarily." Proactive helping may be a uniquely
   human skill.


   Criticisms of the "nice baby" research are varied, and the work with
   the youngest kids is perhaps the most controversial. Over the summer, a
   group of New Zealand scientists challenged Kiley Hamlin's watershed
   "helper/hinderer" study, making international headlines of their own.

   They charged that Hamlin and her co-workers had misidentified the key
   stimuli: Rather than making nuanced moral judgments about kindly
   triangles and antisocial squares (or vice versa, since the researchers
   had also switched the roles assigned to each shape), Hamlin's subjects
   were merely reacting to simple physical events in the experimental
   setup. The babies liked the bouncing motion of the triumphant circle at
   the top of the hill after the triangle helped it reach the summit, and
   they didn't like the way the circle occasionally collided with the
   other shapes.

   Hamlin and her colleagues responded that the New Zealanders'
   re-creation of their experiment was flawed (for one thing, they let the
   circle's goggle eyes look down instead of pointing at the summit,
   confusing the babies' sense of the goal). Plus, the Yale team had
   replicated its results through the puppet shows, evidence that the
   critics didn't address.

   Though Hamlin persuasively dismissed their objections, such
   methodological worries are never far from baby researchers' minds. For
   instance, Tasimi had a sneaking suspicion that in some versions of his
   puppet shows, the babies were choosing orange puppets over green ones
   not because they had sided with good over evil but simply because they
   liked the color orange. (Still, the babies' preference for helpful
   bunnies persisted even when the researchers switched the shirt colors.)

   Other critics, meanwhile, fault the developmental philosophy behind the
   experiments. Babies may look like they're endowed with robust social
   skills, these researchers argue, but actually they start from scratch
   with only senses and reflexes, and, largely through interaction with
   their mothers, learn about the social world in an astonishingly short
   period of time. "I don't think they are born with knowledge," says
   Jeremy Carpendale, a psychologist at Simon Fraser University. A
   toddler's moral perspective, he says, is not a given.

   And still other scientists think the baby studies underestimate the
   power of regional culture. Joe Henrich, a University of British
   Columbia psychologist, says qualities like altruism and moral logic
   cannot be exclusively genetic, as evinced by the wide variety of
   helping behaviors in hunter-gatherer and small-scale horticulturist
   groups across the world, especially compared with Western norms. Ideas
   of the public good and appropriate punishment, for instance, are not
   fixed across societies: Among the Matsigenka people of the Peruvian
   Amazon, where Henrich works, helping rarely occurs outside of the
   immediate household, if only because members of the tribe tend to live
   with relatives.

   "There are biological effects that people think are genetic, but
   culture affects them," he says, adding: "Culture changes your brain."
   He points to variations in fMRI brain scans of people from diverse

   Baby researchers themselves have produced interesting critiques of
   their work. In 2009, Warneken wrote that "children start out as rather
   indiscriminate altruists who become more selective as they grow older."
   Today, however, he feels that the picture is more complicated, with
   broadly pro-social impulses competing with, rather than developmentally
   predating, selfish ones.

   Plenty of bleak observations complicate the discovery of children's
   nobler impulses. Kids are intensely tribal: 3-month-olds like people of
   their own race more than others, experiments have shown, and
   1-year-olds prefer native speakers to those of another tongue. Yes, a
   baby prefers the good guy--unless the bad one, like the baby, eats
   graham crackers. If the good guy is a green-bean eater, forget it.
   Babies, in addition, are big fans of punishment. Hamlin likes to show a
   video of a young vigilante who doesn't just choose between the good and
   bad puppets; he whacks the bad guy over the head. In the spontaneous
   responses of the newest humans, "We're seeing the underbelly of
   judgments we make as adults but try not to," she says.

   Wynn, the Yale scientist, has also questioned the deepest motives of
   Warneken's tiny altruists, noting that seemingly selfless actions may
   actually be adaptive. As any parent of an 18-month-old knows, babies'
   helping isn't all that, well, helpful. Try as they might, they can't
   really stir the cupcake mix or pack the suitcase when asked to do so
   (and parents, to be fair to the tots, don't expect them to succeed but,
   rather, to occupy themselves). Perhaps babies are not really trying to
   help in a particular moment, per se, as much as they are expressing
   their obliging nature to the powerful adults who control their
   worlds--behaving less like Mother Teresa, in a sense, than a
   Renaissance courtier. Maybe parents really would invest more in a
   helpful child, who as an adult might contribute to the family's
   welfare, than they would in a selfish loafer--or so the evolutionary
   logic goes.

   A different interpretation, Warneken says, is that in a simpler world
   maybe toddlers really could help, pitching in to the productivity of a
   hunter-gatherer group in proportion to their relatively meager calorie
   intake. "Maybe the smallest kid has the smallest water bucket, the
   medium kid has the medium bucket and the adult women carry the big
   bucket," he says. On a recent visit to Kinshasa, in Congo, where he was
   conducting more primate studies, "I saw this family walking around, and
   it was exactly like that. Everyone had firewood on their heads, and it
   was all proportional to body size."


   For many researchers, these complexities and contradictions make baby
   studies all the more worthwhile. I spoke with Arber Tasimi again
   recently. The metal rod is out of his arm and he's back to having
   evening beers with friends. Though he still finds babies to be
   inspiring subjects, their more sinister inclinations also intrigue him.
   Tasimi watched a lot of "Sopranos" reruns during his convalescence and
   wonders about designing a baby experiment based on Hammurabi's code, to
   determine whether infants think, like Tony Soprano, that an eye for an
   eye is a fair trade when it comes to revenge. That's not all.

   "I'm trying to think of a lesser-of-two evils study," he says. "Yes, we
   have our categories of good and bad, but those categories involve many
   different things--stealing $20 versus raping versus killing. Clearly I
   can't use those sorts of cases with, you know, 13-month-olds. But you
   can come up with morality plays along a continuum to see...whether they
   form preferences about whether they like the guy who wasn't as bad as
   the other bad guy."

   Likewise, the Crackerz experiment that my daughter participated in is
   headed for a dark turn. Yes, babies prefer to accept a snack from the
   good guy, but what if the bad guy offered them three graham crackers,
   or ten?

   For a grant proposal, Tasimi put a working title on this query: "What
   Price Do Babies Set to Deal With the Devil?"

   [ *] CLOSE


   We were all female

   VIDEO: We were all female
   Because they have barely been exposed to the world, children are some
   of psychology's most powerful muses. JIll Greenberg
   The study of babies and young toddlers is a perplexing business. They
   don't communicate well, if at all, so their opinions can't be solicited
   through ordinary means. JIll Greenberg
   Even well-behaved babies are notoriously tough to read. Their most
   meditative expressions are often the sign of an impending bowel
   movement. JIll Greenberg
   Criticisms of the "nice baby" research are varied, and the work with
   the youngest kids is perhaps the most controversial. JIll Greenberg

   Abigail Tucker | READ MORE

   A frequent contributor to Smithsonian, Abigail Tucker is the author of
   The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the
   World and Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal
   Instinct. More information is available at her website:

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