Can Infants and Toddlers Tell Right from Wrong?

A growing body of evidence…suggests that humans…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…

Babies not only distinguish morally good acts from morally bad ones; they also grasp the demands of justice — that a good act should meet with a positive response and a bad act with a negative one.

Full article on the moral life of babies.

Comments (8)

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  1. Devon Herrick says:

    I wonder if this moral sense developed as the result of natural selection? Throughout history did this moral sense convey an evolutionary advantage over morally-challenged individuals?

  2. artk says:

    Devon sez: “evolutionary advantage over morally-challenged individuals?”

    No, it has nothing to do with individuals. It’s a group evolutionary advantage.

  3. Linda Gorman says:

    How does one get group evolution without individual evolution?

  4. Virginia says:

    It’s all about the genes. We do what we need to do to perpetuate our genetic material and the material of our closest relatives.

    When viewed from this light, traditional theories of morality (that it comes from God) seem less pertinent, and universal morality via evolutionary necessity seems more likely. Morality is a strategy that we have adopted to improve the viability of the species.

  5. Devon Herrick says:


    Maybe members of “the group” killed the morally-challenged, selfish individuals before they could reproduce.

  6. Ken says:

    What scientists are discovering in infants is something that has been born out time and again in experiments with adults. People have a basic sense of fairness in dealing with others and will take less for themselves even when they do not have to in order to treat others fairly.

    However, if the fairness is not reciprocated, people will take less for themselves in order to punish the unfair actor.

    I agree with artk that this behavior has evolutionary group advantage. But maybe over time there is evolutionary survival value in this type of behavior for individuals as well.

  7. Tom H. says:

    I think of this built-in proclivity as a cooperative tit-fot-tat strategy. I think it can have evolutionary survival value versus other strategies in games that are repetitive and where people remember.

    I guess it is self evident that not everybody has this proclivity. Hannibal Lector would be an exception, for example.

  8. Linda Gorman says:

    Devon–chicken and egg. How did the moral types evolve to act in concert to kill the bad guy?