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Are Babies Born Good?

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The question on whether babies are born good or are made good is an incredibly deep question that was thought to have been too difficult to test, due to their inability to communicate efficiently and limited ability to express thoughts and feelings. This packet gives shocking information about how this question has been addressed using processes of observation and experimentation, exploring the idea on whether or not babies are able to make “ethical judgments,” and then whether the baby is born with these abilities. Throughout the packet, different experiments such as Crackerz and Big Mother Study helped show that these experiments were incredibly effective in exposing that fact that babies have a very good chance in being born with and altruistic attitude. The packet then continues to talk about the plethora of criticism that this hypothesis has undergone, including New Zealand’s attempt to recreate the experiment and saying that it failed. The packet as a whole was a very interesting read and proposes some very serious questions.

Two passages that really stood out as being significant were: The ball pit incident and the helper and the “Crackerz” experiment. First the experiment: the psychologist students at Yale University had a small puppet scene that babies would watch where a puppet would attempt to open a box and either another puppet would come and slam it shut, or a puppet would come and assist the struggling puppet in opening the box. This would be repeated six times so the baby could absorb what it was seeing, and then the “good guy” puppet and the “bad guy” puppet would each offer the baby a graham cracker. Babies consistently picked the cracker from the good puppet. The significance in the experiment lies in the nature of how it was done and the remarkable results that came with it. Crackerz was a very simple, primitive experiment that depicted of a scene that required a very young baby (12-13 months) to focus and process what was happening in the scene. The fact that babies were able to realize that one: a puppet was acting in a way that was “bad” as opposed to another that was being “good” and two: they should take the cracker from the “good” puppet because of their observations, is remarkable. This experiment very solidly gives strong evidence in the hypothesis that babies innately have a positive ethical judgment.

The example given from the author and his own daughter even further strengthens this claim, where it says: “Each offered the baby a graham cracker. I was about to tell the experimenters that my daughter had never seen a graham cracker and was an extremely picky eater when she grabbed the treat from the nice bunny.” The fact that the daughter was not only a picky eater, but had never even seen a graham cracker in her life and still chose to take one from the nice puppet is stunning. The second passage, with the ball pit, talks about how an experimenter observing a young boy playing in a ball pit had accidently dropped her pen on the floor. Instead of picking the pen up, the experimenter waited and witnessed as “the child shot her a woebegone look before dutifully hauling himself out of the ball pit, picking up the pen and returning it to the researcher.”

This is by far the most significant passage in the packet. All previous experiments required experimenters to make noises and over exaggerate actions (such as pretending to not be able to reach a pen) in order to gain assistance from the child. This was unprovoked and completely the choice of the child to come and help the researcher, and not only did the boy help on his own, he selflessly left his own play area in the ball pit to help this researcher. Due to that situation being unprovoked or influenced, this passage clearly shows that babies have some degree of morality and altruism when they are born.

All in all, I really liked this packet. It was very eye opening to be able to read about how much we know at such a young age, and not only the extent of that knowledge but how we apply it as young children. These experiments very powerfully support the idea that babies are born “good” and have a basic sense of the “right thing to do.” They further support this argument by showing that even in chimpanzees, altruism is evident and even flourishes in some cases. The use of testing multiple species shows that this attribute is not only found in human beings, but other animals as well. I agree with the idea that babies are born good, and though there was a large amount of criticism towards this idea, I didn’t think all of the arguments were very strong. Though there was attack against the “helper and hinderer” animation experiment, the fact that result were replicated with puppets further strengthens the argument.

I had actually thought about the issue of babies favoring certain colors, but then read that the colors were switched in roles, again a massive support for their idea. I thought it was very interesting in the passage about how babies favor people from their own race, making me instantly wonder on whether racism itself is also an innate characteristic that we are born with. One part of the packet that made me think a lot was when the question of whether or not a baby would still take the cracker from the good guy if the bad guy had three crackers. I believe that even though babies are born with moral traits, they also have a strong sense of self-centered, egocentric thought that would cause them to pick the larger amount if offered, since in young children quantity (three “bad” crackers) is seemingly always much more preferred over quality (one “good” cracker). This was a very interesting packet that I learned a lot from.

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