[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 22 November 2013.]
Where do our deep seated feelings about right and wrong come from? As we cooperate with each other or defect, when did we learn to do that? Were we taught by our parents, our village, or schools in these matters? Or did we arrive in the world with a goodly part of it already embedded in our double helix?
Psychologists and behaviorists have been seeking answers to these questions for a long time under the well-known rubric of ‘nature or nurture’. A focus of such studies for some years has been at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University. In a series of experiments with infants, some as young as three months, several intriguing and heartening answers have come forth. In sum, the babies are finally telling us something about the ‘software’ of morality and ethics with which they and we arrive in the world.
There we learn that we have an innate sense of observed right and wrong behavior, and we immediately prefer to associate with critters who behave correctly. The babies’ preference for associating with beings that do the right thing is overwhelming – over 85% in the experiments conducted at Yale by investigators like Dr Karen Wynn. Wynn and her colleagues have published extensively their findings, and the popular media - CBS (’60 Minutes’) and PBS (‘The Human Spark’ with Alan Alda) - have broadcast entertaining and informative programs on this work.