Six-month-old babies 'can tell right from wrong'
Babies are able to tell right from wrong from the age of six months, a study has suggested.
Researchers asked infants of various ages to choose between characters which they had seen behaving well or badly, and found they overwhelmingly favoured the "good" characters.
One-year-old babies who were asked to take treats away from a "naughty" puppet in some cases went so far as to lean over and smack it on the head.
The research, which is being pioneered by a team of psychologists from the Infant Cognition Centre at Yale University, Connecticut, contradicts the belief promoted by psychologists such as Sigmund Freud that babies are born "amoral animals" and acquire a sense of right and wrong through conditioning.
In another experiment, babies aged between six months and a year watched an animated film in which a red ball with eyes tries to climb a hill while a yellow square tries to help push it up from behind and a green triangle tries to force it back down.
At the end of the film, scientists tested which shape the babies favoured by measuring how long they spent looking at a picture of each one. In 80 per cent of cases, the babies chose the helpful character over the unhelpful one.
Paul Bloom, the professor of psychology who heads the study team, said: "A growing body of evidence ... suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.
"With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone."
One-year-old babies who watched one rabbit puppet trying to snatch a ball from a toy cat while a second rabbit puppet tried to return it chose to punish the "naughty" puppet by confiscating some sweets it had been given earlier. Some also smacked the rabbit on the head without being prompted.
Peter Willatts, a senior lecturer in psychology at Dundee University, said: “You cannot get inside the mind of the baby. You cannot ask them. You have to go on what most attracts their attention.
“We now know that in the first six months babies learn things much quicker than we thought possible. What they are born with and what they learn is difficult to divide.”