By Jill BuchnerUpdated Apr 28, 2020
So many parents worry about instilling a sense of justice in their children, but a new study shows that even before they learn to walk and talk, babies are willing to side with the good guys who stand up to bullies and protect victims. Sure, it’s still important to teach your kids all those good values, but you can rest assured that they come into the world primed to be benevolent little beings – babies are born good.
The study, which was based in Kyoto, showed six-month-old and 10-month-old infants animations of a Pac-Man-like geometric character aggressively chasing and bumping into another character. In some of the animations, a third character observed the "bullying" behaviour; in others, the third character fled. In the last scenario, a different third character intervened, superhero-like, “protecting” the victimized character. After the animations were over, the researchers from Kyoto University gave the babies the chance to choose from real-life versions of the characters, and the babies showed a preference for the intervening “hero” character.
Though even six-month-olds preferred the protective figures overall, 10-month-old babies were especially likely to side with these justice fighters. They could also distinguish between intentional intervention and accidental heroics. Researchers concluded that, “Six-month-olds regarded the interfering agent to be protecting the victim from the aggressor, but only the older infants affirmed such an intervention after considering the intentions of the agent.”
Not only does the study show that babies can understand the victim-bully dynamic, but its authors also suggest that recognizing heroism is an innate ability.
That might explain why kids go crazy for superhero movies and all the costumes and figurines that come with them. And it turns out these could be great tools when it comes to reinforcing kids' compassion and teaching little ones to stick up for those who are teased in the playground. The researchers note that, even by the time they become toddlers, kids’ reactions to social interactions become more influenced by their parents and peers, so their innate desire for justice needs to be nurtured.
If babies are born to be helpful heroes, it’s our job to help make that happen.