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Twelve months old infants' evaluation of observed comforting behavior using a choice paradigm

As humans we have a tendency to judge certain actions as either right or wrong. Where does our moral sense come from? We found evidence that infants who are only one year old prefer those who comfort as opposed to ignore another who is sad.

Szilvia Biro
20 April 2023
Twelve months old infants' evaluation of observed comforting behavior using a choice paradigm: The role of animacy cues and self-distress

In the current study, we showed two types of animations to 12 months old infants in which two characters were moving together but then got separated when the smaller character could not climb up a hill and started to cry. In one type of animation, the larger character came back and touched (“comforted”) the smaller one. In the other type of animation, the large character looked different and moved further away from the little one (“ignored” it). After watching these animations, infants were presented with the two large characters and they could pick the one they liked (“choice task”). We found that infants were more likely to choose the comforting character than the ignoring character.

In a control study, in which the animations were the same except that the characters did not have any human features, infants did not show any preference for any of the characters. This supports the idea that it is not the movement of the characters but the social evaluation of these actions that determine infants ’choices. Our research, together with other recent studies, suggest that young children - well before they are capable of engaging into actions such as comforting or helping themselves - are already able to evaluate others’ actions as preferable or not. In other words, infants posses  a “moral sense” early on.

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