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Babies prefer helpers

A recent study, published in the November issue of the Journal of Nature, has found that babies are able to distinguish helpful from unhelpful people. The Yale researchers found that babies prefer individuals who help others to those who either do nothing, or interfere with others? goals

The researchers recorded babies preferences towards two animated objects, by recording which of two actors they reached for.

In the study, 10 month year old babies saw a wooden character, with large eyes glued on, called ?the climber? trying to climb a hill. The wooden character repeatedly tried to ascend the hill without success.  The infants then observed the wooden character either being helped to the top by a triangular character, which tried to push the character uphill, or being hindered by a square character which tried to push the character down hill.

Once the infants had sufficiently processed the events the researchers measured the babies attitudes towards the helper or the hinderer.  What they found was that fourteen of the sixteen babies preferred the helper. A second experiment ruled out that the babies were just responding to the direction in which the characters were moving.  Another, third study, found that babies preferred a helpful character to a neutral one and preferred a neutral character to an unhelpful one.

The authors said that the ability to tell helpful from unhelpful people would undoubtedly have an evolutionary advantage, and may provide the starting point for moral reasoning and development of abstract concepts of right and wrong.  According to the researchers the next step would be to determine the complexity of this understanding--for example, to explore whether infants prefer to interact with those who punish hinderers to those who reward them.  To read the press release click here
To watch a video clip of the experiment click here

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