Babies know the difference between good and evil at six months, study reveals

At the age of six months babies can barely sit up - let along take their first tottering steps, crawl or talk.

But, according to psychologists, they have already developed a sense of moral code - and can tell the difference between good and evil.

An astonishing series of experiments is challenging the views of many psychologists and social scientists that human beings are born as ‘blank slates’ - and that our morality is shaped by our parents and experiences.

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Between good and EVIL? Maybe between good and bad. Evil is a concept that goes well beyond “bad.” The use of the term by that newspaper betrays a certain ignorance, IMO.

Knowledge of good and evil is planted in our heart by God.

The Divine image is in every man. CCC

Do you really think that the Church thinks that a 6 month old child knows the difference between a bad person and an EVIL one? I’d love to see where the Church presumes that infants have that degree of discernment - can you cite a section of the Catechism?

Don’t forget that there is a concept called the “age of reason.” If infants had the discernment that older chldren had, they would be culpable for anything bad that they did. It takes training to teach a chld the difference between taking someone else’s candy and stealing it.

I stand by my statement. An infant cannot discern EVIL.

1776 "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . ** For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . .** His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."47

**1954 **Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie: **The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, **because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin . . . But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted.

The knowledge of good and evil is innate. The age of reason comes when a child can use his faculties to make the choice.

Misleading, continuing the quote:

In one experiment involving puppets, babies aged six months old showed a strong preference to ‘good’ helpful characters - and rejected unhelpful, ‘naughty’ ones.

‘In the end, we found that six- and ten-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual,’ Prof Bloom told the New York Times.

Doesn’t mean they’re hardwired to know the difference between good and evil, could also mean that they’re hardwired to identify safe people they can get resources from and avoid dangerous people who could harm them.

The babies are innocent and haven’t developed the experimental knowledge to know evil as it is generally understood. In this study what they recognize are desired outcomes and obstacles to those outcomes. At this point of their developement they can percieve desired outcomes as a good and whatever makes that good unnattainable as an evil. That is a very rudimentary morality barely above animal morality if even. ’ If I want it it’s good’ . When I see babies presented with a good that involves pain and an evil that involves pleasure and the good is chosen nevertheless that would be impressive.

We’re talking about children around half a year old, not a “man” as is cited in your post. A small child, especially of the ages in that study, CANNOT discern the difference between what is “bad” and what is EVIL. One study a generalization does not make.

I say this on the basis of having raised and observed five children from birth to adulthood.

Well put. I would have substituted bad for evil. There are bad people and evil people and we ought not lump them together. This is not in any way to be inferred as criticism of your post, however.

Here’s a much more extensive article on the subject from the NY Times Magazine and a BBC program about the infant brain.

Claims infants can appreciate good and evil are exaggerated but I think they can perceive fairness and unfairness beyond simple desired/undesired outcomes.

I’m suspiscious of this study. The notion that a moral foundation is inherent is a double edged sword. On the side of faith it is explained as a diminished sense of true goodness. A fallen nature.

Gen 8
21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;

On the other side it is a moral foundation that developed naturally and in man is given a rational quality.

The final statement from the New Times Article

It is the insights of rational individuals that make a truly universal and unselfish morality something that our species can aspire to.

The question becomes;

A. Is our moral status a fall from grace or

B. Is it a progression that flows from experimental knowledge as the human condition increasingly requires refined social behaviours.

I think we can all predict which view will prevail and construct the modern view of reality.

It’s worth noting that we can observe behaviors in social animals – cooperative behavior, helping sick and injured members of their groups, obeying rules and punishing members who do not conform to these rules – that reflects a natural tendency to work together to ensure survival.

There doesn’t appear to be anything at all supernatural about altruism, empathy, and the tendency to cooperate – at least among social animals.

Okay, this comment has nothing to do about science, but how many babies have you all observed when they are around large groups of people. Have you observed their facial expressions and those whom they stare at? For example, when my dd was an infant one uncle she would not only pull away from him when in our arms and him across the room, but the face she made was such of fear. We, of course have encouraged her in later years to say “hi” but I can say that this uncle does battle with a lot of dark things in his life. Babies do gravitate toward some and not others, even among a group of strangers if you just pay attention. I believe, because of their purity, they have a heightened sense of things not being right with someone.

And they don’t always smile back to someone who smiles at them.

Agreed. I doubt this area of study will offer evidence for or against a divine origin for human nature.

There should be a game show: “Are you smarter than a six month old”

We could invite abortion doctors, politicians, moral relativists and lawyers.

We enter life intuiting the world around us. An intuitive sensitivity unburdened by personal sin, an infant may even be percieving through the lense of natural bliss. This state of soul could be very sensitive to the emotions that cause the body to produce the chemicals associated with fear and anger which have become toxic and permanently produced at high levels in many adults. The conscious awareness we enter the world with eventually becomes buried as our conscious awareness develops. It is a forgotten understanding of the world around us that we call our subconscious. It informs us of things we missed while awake in dreams, it’s a part of us that psychologists get to know by using Roarchach tests, it’s the part of us that is accessed by hypnotists and the part of us that knows things we don’t know we know. :idea:

Social cooperation is what this baby study shows, and social cooperation may be hard-wired into humans. And I won’t quibble over whether this is “bad” or “evil.” The Bible has a wide spectrum of evils. NON SERVIAM, Lucifer’s refusal to obey God and serve mankind, instead choosing to exalt himself above God’s throne, is the ultimate evil.

This study may indeed be discerning the tendency towards social cooperation, a kind of proto-morality. The age of reason is seven in the Hebrew culture. We are not to judge others, and this shows those with a hard-wired tendency to do good may be judged on a different scale than those who, having no natural tendency, must use more cumbersome rational thought processes to discern and do that which is good and reject evil.

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