from the was-Betteridge-born-with-a-moral-compass? dept.
For millennia, philosophers have pondered the question of whether humans are inherently good. But now, researchers from Japan have found that young infants can make and act on moral judgments, shedding light on the origin of morality.
[...] Punishment of antisocial behavior is found in only humans, and is universal across cultures. However, the development of moral behavior is not well understood. Further, it can be very difficult to examine decision-making and agency in infants, which the researchers at Osaka University aimed to address.
"Morality is an important but mysterious part of what makes us human," says lead author of the study Yasuhiro Kanakogi. "We wanted to know whether third-party punishment of antisocial others is present at a very young age, because this would help to signal whether morality is learned."
To tackle this problem, the researchers developed a new research paradigm. First, they familiarized infants with a computer system in which animations were displayed on a screen. The infants could control the actions on the screen using a gaze-tracking system such that looking at an object for a sufficient period of time led to the destruction of the object. The researchers then showed a video in which one geometric agent appeared to "hurt" another geometric agent, and watched whether the infants "punished" the antisocial geometric agent by gazing at it.
"The results were surprising," says Kanakogi. "We found that preverbal infants chose to punish the antisocial aggressor by increasing their gaze towards the aggressor."
Kanakogi, Y., Miyazaki, M., Takahashi, H. et al. Third-party punishment by preverbal infants. Nat Hum Behav (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-022-01354-2