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Babies: Born To Be Good?

Psychologists have made breakthroughs in our understanding of what babies might be thinking, and what they could possibly know about justice, helping, honesty, fairness. Even before they learn to talk!
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Photo Credit: Emma McIntyre

Where does our moral compass come from? Where do our notions of good and bad, our sense of justice and fairness originate? Do we come into the world as amoral creatures without any sense of right and wrong, without any conscience and only learn to be good?

In laboratories around the world psychologists are grappling with the age-old problem of morality.  And strange as it may seem, they are posing these large philosophical questions to babies.  As the answers emerge, the findings about babies' moral notions tell us much about human nature.

BABIES: BORN TO BE GOOD? is a lively look at the moral trajectory of  children from the first months of life onward. Blending scientific research and scenes of children playing in their own environments, the documentary reveals that children seem to have a moral sense from the very the get-go.

The last 30 years have brought about a revolution in our understanding of babies.  New techniques have allowed psychologists to decipher what babies think and they've discovered more and more about the complexity of what is going on in even the youngest baby's mind. The results of their research are startling. The evidence suggests that there are glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of a baby's life.


Photo Credit: Emma McIntyre

BABIES: BORN TO BE GOOD? focuses on the latest cutting-edge research by developmental psychologists working in infant laboratories around the world. The most imaginative efforts go into designing experiments to study the development of moral understanding in children. Some are like mini-plays and magic shows designed to elicit a moral judgement even from babies as young as three months.

And so we witness 3-month olds demonstrating preference for "good guys" over "bad guys".  We see 6 month-olds proving they understand concepts of reward and punishment. And 9-month-olds -- justice and fairness?

We look at the influence of culture on lying and truthfulness,-- (and what is an acceptable white lie) -- as children try to navigate the fine line between the two, learning how to solve one of the big moral questions that adults  face everyday.

Morality is absolutely fundamental to our life, it covers just about every span of human endeavour, every aspect of day to day interaction. And if we want to see where our moral instinct comes from studying babies gives us insight into human nature before it gets tainted & corrupted by culture .

BABIES: BORN TO BE GOOD? is a stormy nights productions, produced by Gail McIntyre & Amélie Blanchard and directed and written by Eileen Thalenberg in association with CBC-TV.


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