The infantile origins of human moral judgment: studies with preverbal infants and toddlers
How do humans come to have a “moral sense”? Are adults’ conceptions of which actions are right and which are wrong, of who is good and who is bad, who deserves praise and who deserves blame wholly the result of experiences like observing and interacting with others in one’s cultural environment and explicit teaching from parents, teachers, and religious leaders? Do all of the complexities in adult’s moral judgments reflect hard-won developmental change coupled with the emergence of advanced reasoning skills? This talk will explore evidence that, on the contrary, infants’ and toddlers’ social behaviors and social preferences map surprisingly well onto adults’ moral ones. Within the first year of life, infants prefer those who help versus harm third parties, those who reward prosocial individuals and punish wrongdoers, and even focus on the intentions that drive others’ actions rather than the outcomes that result from them. In the second year of life, toddlers are motivated to engage in both prosocial and antisocial behaviors toward third parties; these behaviors are informed by those third parties’ past prosocial and antisocial acts. Finally, male infants' performance on infant and toddler tasks predicts parent-reported social and moral functioning in preschool. These results suggest that the human moral sense is supported, at least in part, by extremely early-developing mechanisms for social evaluation and action.