Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Moral Sense   posted by DavidB @ 11/22/2007 04:08:00 AM

Research in the latest issue of Nature provides evidence that babies can distinguish 'helpful' from 'unhelpful' people at a very early age, before they acquire language and (presumably) before they can have learned the distinction from their own experience. The evidence comes from staged scenarios using 'nice' and 'nasty' dolls. Babies prefer the nice ones. The researchers argue that this must be an evolved adaptation for social living, which seems plausible enough. Someone should try the same experiment with chimps and other primates. To understand the evolution of morality (in my opinion) we need more good experiments and less mathematical theorising, or at least a better balance between the two.

Here is a report from today's London Times. No doubt there are others.

Added: I assume, though it is not clear from the Times report, that the researchers have excluded the possibility that babies just prefer triangles to squares.