Author: Paul Bloom
APA Style Citation
Bloom, Paul (2013). Just Babies: The Origin of Good and Evil. New York: Broadway Books.
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After watching a fantastic 60 minutes episode focusing on research being conducted at Yale University on morality in babies, I was drawn to this book written by one of the psychologists featured in the video clip. The 60 minutes story is based on work currently underway at the Yale University Infant Cognition Center. A link to this information is included in the related resources section at the end of the post. The author of Just Babies, Paul Bloom is the husband of Dr. Karen Wynn, the director of the lab and the primary investigator at the center. Bloom also does work on pleasure, morality, and prejudice. In this book, Bloom examines the question of whether or not morality is the result of nature or nurture. His studies and the other research included in the book indicate that to some degree morality is not developed entirely by experience with the environment but that a significant part of morality is innate and the result of evolutionary processes. According to research referenced by Bloom, even very young babies demonstrate an innate morality based on compassion, fairness, and empathy. Although limited, evidence shows that babies have a rudimentary capacity for morality.
The book Just Babies, explains in detail much of the research conducted at Yale and describes a variety of experiments to explore morality in children. One study, in particular, features one-year-old babies (and even younger) watching puppet shows featuring nice puppets who demonstrate sharing and helping behaviors and naughty puppets who demonstrate stealing and aggressive behaviors. When shown the nice and naughty puppets after the show, babies in significant numbers “choose” the nice puppet either by reaching for it or by the length of their gaze (very young babies who do not have the motor control to reach). Children in the studies demonstrated preference by how long they looked at the preferred puppet. When given a chance to reward or punish the puppets the children were likely to take treats away from the “bad” puppets and give the treats to the “nice” puppets.
The results from the various puppet studies and other innovative research indicate that while babies do have the basis of morality and prefer those who help others, they are also likely to favor those with whom they share traits. Even seemingly arbitrary preferences impacted the moral decisions of the babies in the study. Babies who were asked to choose a snack (graham crackers or cheerios) were more likely to favor puppets who liked the same snack and were more likely to punish puppets who liked a different snack.
The book provides numerous examples of how psychologists study morality in children using games and dilemmas created by behavioral economists. By having children of various ages participate in public goods and commoner’s dilemma games with varying situational factors, psychologists can study the development of concepts such as fairness, equality, empathy, responsibility, in-group favoritism, prejudice, punishment, and altruism in children some of whom are too young to communicate verbally.
In addition to a review of the history of the impact of human compassion and empathy, Bloom also discusses the human tendencies of selfishness and aggression and the potential evolutionary purposes of antisocial behaviors such as racial bias. The book also goes into detail about several classic psychological studies including the Milgram obedience study, the Clark doll study, Tajfel’s Kandinsky/Klee study, and Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment that are related to the introductory psychology curriculum. Bloom provides some unique insights into these studies and how they relate to research on morality and moral development in babies with regards to both nature and nurture. Numerous unique aspects of the studies many may not be familiar with are revealed in the book. For example, in the Robbers Cave study, Sherif found even very trivial differences could create in-group bias. The two groups of campers (Rattlers and Eagles) created differences in communication. The Rattlers swore, but the Eagles emphasized their use of clean language. Sherif claims that these differences exaggerated the preference for one`s group over the others. The Robber’s Cave experiment illustrated how easy it is for individuals to identify with others with whom they are grouped regardless of how arbitrarily and to view members of their group as superior. According to Bloom, research with very young children shows that humans start out with the tendency to distinguish between groups, but “it is our environments that tell us precisely how to do so.” Children can categorize people by the color of their skin, but very small children do not show any bias in skin color when selecting friends. Environmental factors create prejudices out of a natural tendency to separate individuals into similar groups to better navigate the world around us. Bloom also discusses the Clark doll study and makes connections to his current research on the origin and development of ethnic and racial prejudices.
Paul Bloom’s book, Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil does an excellent job of explaining how developmental psychologists study moral development in babies and children by connecting classic studies with innovative current research. The book adds new insights and details from classic studies that can be used to expand student interest and understanding of a variety of topics in developmental, cognitive, biological, and social psychology. This can help instructors and students make connections with units beyond developmental and cognitive psychology such as motivation and emotion and intelligence and testing.
Other Related Resources
Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality In this 60 Minutes video of research at the Yale University Infant Cognition Center – Video of the amazing research conducted by Yale University on how infants understand good and evil as well as examples of research on morality in older children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRvVFW85IcU
2017 Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize - Video interview with psychologist Paul Bloom and his wife and research partner Karen Wynn. The 2017 Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize is awarded to Paul Bloom for his research into the origins, nature, and development of children's moral thought and behavior.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdf_xOTcnWI
CNN 360 video with Anderson Cooper - What your baby knows might freak you outAnderson Cooper’s interview with researchers at the Yale Infant Cognition Lab. http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/living/what-babies-know-anderson-cooper-parents/
PBS Series The Spark with Alan Alda – At Oxford University, Alan Alda finds out from Robin Dunbar how human social networks compare to those of chimps, and at the Yale University Infant Cognition lab observers watch babies as young as three months old pick cooperative puppets over those who do not play fairly. Note: There are numerous other high-interest videos on the PBS series site for The Spark.
Public Goods Dilemma simulation game – The complete instructions for playing a public goods dilemma game using cards.
Baby Laughing Video – This viral video of a baby laughing at an unexpected experience has been viewed more than 93 million times.
Yale Infant Cognition Lab
Psychologist Karen Wynn runs the Yale Infant Cognition “Baby Lab” which is researching the developmental foundations of morality, the origin of prejudice, and early emotional cognition. The lab also is studying adult (especially parents’) naïve theories of the minds of infants, and how adults’ intuitive conceptions of who babies are shape their’ interactions with infants.
Author Paul Bloom’s TED Talk on the origins of pleasure, which has almost 2 million views. The talk addresses questions such as why do we like an original painting better than a forgery? Psychologist Paul Bloom argues that human beings are essentialists - that our beliefs about the history of an object can change how we experience it, not simply as an illusion, but as a deep feature of what pleasure (and pain) is.
Author Paul Bloom’s TED Talk on if prejudice can ever be a good thing. According to Bloom we often think of bias and prejudice as rooted in ignorance, but Bloom seeks to show, prejudice can often be natural, rational, or even moral. The key, says Bloom, is to understand how our own biases work -- so we can take control when they go wrong. This talk references Henri Tajfel’s research on stereotypes. The talk covers a large range of studies and issues related to prejudice and stereotypes including explicit v. implicit bias.
Other Books by Paul Bloom
Bloom, P. (2010). How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like. New York: W.W. Norton Company.
Bloom, P. (2018). Against Empathy, The Case for Rational Compassion. New York: Harper Collins.
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Kenneth and Mamie Clark
Frans De Waal
Emotion (e.g., anger, disgust, embarrassment, fear, guilt, shame)
Implicit Association Test (IAT)
Mere exposure effect
Public goods game
Robbers Cave experiment
Sucking behavior infant research method
Unconscious racial bias
Yale Infant Cognition Center