‘Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

Simon Baron-Cohen in The New York Times:

BabyIs morality innate? In his new book, “Just Babies,” the psychologist Paul Bloom draws from his research at the Yale Infant Cognition Center to argue that “certain moral foundations are not acquired through learning. . . . They are instead the products of biological evolution.” Infants may be notoriously difficult to study (rats and pigeons “can at least run mazes or peck at levers”), but according to Bloom, they are, in fact, “moral creatures.” He describes a study in which 1-year-olds watched a puppet show where a ball is passed to a “nice” puppet (who passes it back) or to a “naughty” puppet (who steals it). Invited to reward or punish the puppets, children took treats away from the “naughty” one. These 1-year-olds seem to be making moral judgments, but is this an inborn ability?

…He also describes remarkable classic experiments, some of which left this reader stunned. One study by the psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark involved presenting black children with black and white dolls. In the segregated South, a ­majority of children preferred the white dolls and used negative attributes to describe the black dolls. Bloom says this study, referred to in the Brown v. Board of Education decision to end school segregation, “might well be the most important developmental psychology finding in American history.” But how it fits into his theory of morality is less clear, since the experiment only really shows that, without exposure to people from different backgrounds, we have a tendency to judge others based on stereotypes.

More here.