Wellington: New Zealand researchers have challenged a landmark US study finding that suggested that even six-month-old children possess a moral core that permits them to judge people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
The 2007 study by Yale researchers provided the first evidence that six- and 10-month-old infants could assess individuals based on their behaviour towards others, showing a preference for those who helped rather than hindered another individual.
Based on a series of experiments, psychology researchers at the University of Otago, New Zealand, have shown that the earlier findings may simply be the result of infants’ preferences for interesting and attention-grabbing events, rather than an ability to evaluate individuals based on their social interactions with others, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.
“The paper received a lot of attention when it was first published, including coverage in the New York Times. It has received well over 100 citations since 2007, a phenomenal number over such a short period,” said Damian Scarf who led the study, according to an Otago statement.
“Our original motivation for reading the paper was merely interest. Obviously, the idea that morality is innate is extremely interesting and, if true, would raise questions about which components of our moral system are innate and also have implications for the wider issue of the roles that nature and nurture play in development,” Scarf said.