Living

Do babies like good people or just things that bounce?

The prehistoric notion of newborns as blobs of clay solely dependent on externals--people and events--to shape them into something roughly akin to human beings with their own distinctive set of characteristics and proclivities, good and bad, has essentially gone the way of the eight track.

Baby with parents

Masterfile

The prehistoric notion of newborns as blobs of clay solely dependent on externals — people and events — to shape them into something roughly akin to human beings with their own distinctive set of characteristics and proclivities, good and bad, has essentially gone the way of the eight track.

Modern science and personal experience teach that babies come with their own set of  DNA-mandated personal instructions. We know they aren’t blank slates, but discerning what they’re actually thinking about at any given time remains, for the most part, as elusive a pursuit as trying to divine the thoughts of the family dog.

According to a story in The Atlantic, the results of a study that appeared in the pages of Nature in 2007, in which babies were deemed capable of not only distinguishing between right and wrong ,but choosing right over wrong, have been challenged by a do-over study recently conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand.

In the original experiment, toy climbers ascended a toy mountain and during the process were both aided in that task by helper toys and thwarted by hinderer toys. The obstructive toys could get nasty and noisy too, (provoking crashes) while the successful climbers supported by helpers, bounced around with glee on reaching the top of the mountains.

Six participating babies showed definite and consistent preference for the helper toys while shunning the hinderers. The conclusion at the time was that human babies preferred good conduct to bad. But now, according to the New Zealand study, in which bouncing and crashing took place regardless of whether there was helping or hindering going on, the babies ignored the good and the bad and instead demonstrated a preference for the toys that bounced.

For those who wonder about such things, the ponder factor just got even more ponderous. Maybe babies can distinguish good from bad. Maybe they do like the former better than the latter. The only thing that both experiments seem to confirm is that human beings, regardless of their age, will choose the bounce every time.

Did your baby seem to know the difference between good and bad?