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Please read:

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How Children Learn. In

How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school

(Chapter 4, pp. 79-113). Washington, D. C.: National Academy Press.

Tucker, A. (2013). Born to be bad? The new science of morality.

Smithsonian

(January), 37-41.

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Title————: Smithsonian Magazine
Vol————–: 43
Issue————: 9
Date————-: 2013 January
Article Title—-: Are Babies born Good?
Article Author—: Tucker, Abigail
Article Pages—-: 35-41,76-77. + Title page & copyright page of issue
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SMITHSONIAN.COM I January 2013
rber Taslmi is a 23-year-old researcher at Yale University’s Infant Cognition
Center, where he studies the moral inclinations of babies-how the littlest children understand right and wrong, before language and culture exert their deep
influence.”What are we at our core, before anything, before everything?” he
asks. His experiments draw on the work of Jean Piaget, Noam Chomsky, his
own undergraduate thesis at the University of Pennsylvania and what happened to him in New Haven, Connecticut, one Friday night last February.
11 It was about 9:45 p.m., and Tasimi and a friend were strolling home from
dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. Just a few hundred feet from his apartment
building, he passed a group of young men in jeans and hoodies. Tasimi
barely noticed them, until one landed a punch to the back of his head. 11
There was no time to run. The teenagers, ignoring his friend, wordlessly surrounded Tasimi, who had crumpled to the brick sidewalk.
“It was seven guys versus one aspiring PhD,” he remembers. “I
started counting punches, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Somewhere along the way, a knife came out.” The blade slashed
through his winter coat, just missing his skin. 11 At last the attackers ran, leaving Tasimi prone and weeping on the sidewalk,
Born to Be Mild
ARE WE BORN KNOWING RIGHT FROM WRONG?
NEW RESEARCH OFFERS SURPRISING ANSWERS
TO THE AGE-OLD QUESTION OF WHERE
MORALITY COMES FROM BY ABIGAIL TUCKER
PHOTOGRAPHS
BY JILL GREENBERG
January 2013 I SMITHSONIAN.COM
36
I[
11
I
his left arm broken. Police later said
he was likely the random victim of a
gang initiation.
After surgeons inserted a metal rod
in his arm, Tasimi moved back home
with his parents in Waterbury, Connecticut, about 35 minutes from New
Haven, and became a creature much
like the babies whose social lives he
studies. He couldn’t shower on his
own. His mom washed him and tied
his shoes. His sister cut his meat.
Spring came. One beautiful afternoon, the temperature soared into the
70s and Tasimi, whose purple and yellow bruises were still healing, worked
up the courage to stroll outside by himself for the first time. He went for a
walk on a nearby jogging trail. He tried
not to notice the two teenagers who
seemed to be following him. “Stop catastrophizing,” he told himself again
and again, up until the moment the
boys demanded his headphones.
The mugging wasn’t violent but it
broke his spirit. Now the whole world
seemed menacing. When he at last resumed his morality studies at the Infant Cognition Center, he parked his
car on the street, feeding the meter
every few hours rather than risking a
shadowy parking garage.
“I’ve never been this low in life,” he
told me when we first met at the baby
lab a few weeks after the second
crime. “You can’t help wonder: Are we
a failed species?”
At times, he said, “only my research
gives me hope.”
he study of babies and
young toddlers is a perplexing business. Even the
most perceptive observers
can be tempted to see what isn’t there.
“When our infant was only four
months old I thought that he tried to
imitate sounds; but I may have deceived myself,” Charles Darwin wrote
in “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant,” his classic study of his own son.
Babies don’t reliably control their
bodies or communicate well, if at all,
so their opinions can’t be solicited
through ordinary means. Instead,
researchers outfit them with miniature wire skullcaps to monitor their
brain waves, scrutinize them like
shoplifters through video cameras
and two-way mirrors, and conduct exceedingly clever and tightly controlled
experiments, which a good portion of
their subjects will refuse to sit
through anyway. Even well-behaved
babies are notoriously tough to read:
Their most meditative expressions
are often the sign of an impending
bowel movement.
But tiny children are also some of
psychology’s most powerful muses.
Because they have barely been exposed to the world, with its convoluted
cultures and social norms, they represent the raw materials of humanity:
who we are when we’re born, rather
than who we become. Benjamin
Spock’s famous book, Dr. Spock’s Baby
and Child Care, “starts out with the
sentence ‘You know more than you
think you do,'” says Melvin Konner, an
Emory University anthropologist and
physician and the author of The Evolution of Childhood. “There’s another
point that needs to be made to parents:
Your baby knows more than you think
she knows. That’s wh.at’s coming out
of this kind ofresearch.”
The 1980s and ’90s brought a series
of revelations about very young babies’
sophisticated perceptions of the physical world, suggesting that we come to
life equipped with quite an extensive
toolkit. (Can5-month-oldscount? Ab-
T
_____
……
36
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SMITHSONIAN.COM
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I Jan uary
2013
solutely. Do they understand simple
physics? Yes.) Recently, some labs
have turned to studying infants’ inborn social skills, and how babies perceive and assess other people’s goals
and intentions. Scrutinizing these
functions, scientists hope, will reveal
some innate features of our minds”the nutshell of our nature,” says
Karen Wynn, director of the Yale lab.
“People who’ve spent their whole
careers studying perception are now
turning toward social life, because
that’s where the bio-behavioral rubber
meets the evolutionary road,” Konner
says. “Natural selection has operated
as much or more on social behavior
as on more basic things like perception. In our evolution, survival and reproduction depended more and more
on social competence as you went
from basic mammals to primates to
human ancestors to humans.”
The Yale Infant Cognition Center
is particularly interested in one of the
most exalted social functions: ethical
judgments, and whether babies are
hard-wired to make them. The lab’s
initial study along these lines, published in 2007 in the journal Nature,
startled the scientific world by showing that in a series of simple morality
plays, 6- and 10-month-olds overwhelmingly preferred “good guys” to
“bad guys.” “This capacity may serve
as the foundation for moral thought
and action,” the authors wrote. It “may
form an essential basis for … more
abstract concepts ofright and wrong.”
The last few years produced a spate
of related studies hinting that, far
from being born a “perfect idiot,” as
Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, or a
selfish brute, as Thomas Hobbes
feared, a child arrives in the world
provisioned with rich, broadly pro-social tendencies and seems predisposed to care about other people.
Children can tell, to an extent, what
is good and bad, and often act in an altruistic fashion. “Giving Leads to
Happiness in Young Children,” a study
ofunder-2-year-olds concluded. “Babies Know What’s Fair” was the upshot of another study, of 19- and 21month-olds. Toddlers, the new literature suggests, are particularly equitable. They are natural helpers, aiding
distressed others at a cost to themselves, growing concerned if someone
shreds another person’s artwork and
divvying up earnings after a shared
task, whether the spoils take the form
of detested rye bread or precious
Gummy Bears.
This all sounds like cheering news
for humanity, especially parents who
nervously chant “share, share, share”
as their children navigate the communal toy box. Indeed, some of these studies suggest that children’s positive social inclinations are so deeply ingrained
that it doesn’t matter what parents say
or do: A Harvard experiment, nicknamed “The Big Mother Study” (as in
Big Mother Is Watching You), showed
that small children helped others
whether or not a parent commanded
them to help or was even present.
These findings may seem counterintuitive to anyone who has seen toddlers pull hair in a playground tunnel
or pistol-whip one another with a
plastic triceratops. Day to day, babies
can seem unfeeling and primitive, or
at the very least unfathomably bizarre,
afraid of donkeys one minute and the
moon the next, their prismatic minds
beaming nonsense and non sequiturs
instead of the secrets of our higher nature. No seasoned parent can believe
that nurture doesn’t make a difference, or that nature trumps all. The
question is where the balance lies.
“Where morality comes from is a really hard problem,” says Alison Gopnik,
a developmental psychologist at the
January 2013 I SMITHSONIAN.COM
~—– –
37
—-
I
I’
University of California at Berkeley.
“There isn’t a moral module that is
there innately. But the elements that
underpin morality-altruism, sympathy for others, the understanding of
other people’s goals-are in place much
earlier than we thought, and clearly in
place before children turn 2.”
hough housed In a stern
stone edifice on the Yale
campus, the baby cognition
lab is a happy nest of an office
with a comfy couch, meant to be torn
apart by one tornado of a toddler after
another, and huge, sunlight-streaming
windows, through which researchers
spy on approaching strollers. Ranging
in age from 3 months to 2 years, the visiting infants are elaborately received by
staff members who crawl around
on the floor with them while parents sign consent forms. (A
little-known expense of this
line ofresearch is the cost
of new pants: The
knees wear out
fast.) In the
back room,
the atmosphere is less
cozy. There’s lots of
weird stufflying around:
plastic molds of Cheerios,
houseplants that have been
spray-painted silver.
Infant morality studies are
so new that the field’s grand
dame is 29-year-old J. Kiley
Hamlin, who was a graduate student at the Yale lab in the mid2000s. She was spinning her wheels
for a thesis project when she stumbled
on animated presentations that one of
her predecessors had made, in which a
“climber” (say, a red circle with goggle
eyes) attempted to mount a hill, and a
“helper” (a triangle in some trials) assisted him, or a “hinderer” (a square)
knocked him down. Previous infant research had focused on other aspects of
the interaction, but Hamlin wondered
if a baby observing the climber’s plight
would prefer one interfering character
over another.
“As adults, we like the helper and
don’t like the hinderer,” says Hamlin,
T
38
SMITHSONIAN.COM
I January
2013
now an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. “We didn’t
think babies would do that too. It was
just like, ‘Let’s give it a try because
Kiley’s a first-year graduate student and
she doesn’t know what she’s doing.'”
Wynn and her husband, the psychologist Paul Bloom, collaborated on
much of Hamlin’s research, and Wynn
remembers being a bit more optimistic: “Do babies have attitudes, render judgments? I just found that to be
a very intuitively gripping question,”
she says. “Ifwe tend to think ofbabies
being born and developing attitudes
in the world as a result of their own
experiences, then babies shouldn’t be
responding [to the scenarios]. But
maybe we are built to identify in the
world that some things are good and
some things are not, and some helpful
and positive social interaction is to be
approved of and admired.”
In fact, 6- and 10-month-old babies
did seem to have strong natural opinions
about the climbing scenarios: They
passionately preferred the helper to the
hinderer, as assessed by the amount of
time they spent looking at the characters. This result “was totally surreal,”
Hamlin says-so revolutionary
that the researchers themselves
didn’t quite trust it. They designed additional experiments with plush animal puppets helping
and hindering each
other; at the end babies
got the chance to reach
for the puppet of their
choice. “Basically every
single baby chose the nice puppet,” Hamlin remembers.
Then they tested 3-monthold infants. The researchers
couldn’t ask the infants to reach for the
puppets, because 3-month-olds can’t reliably reach, so they tracked the subjects’
eye movements instead. These infants,
too, showed an aversion to the hinderer.
When I visited, Tasimi was recreating versions of Hamlin’s puppet shows
as background work for a new project.
The son of Albanian restaurateurs,
Tasimi likes to say that his parents
would “prefer that I merely produce babies, instead of study them.” Friends
joke that he attends Yale to be a puppeteer. Though it’s decidedly unfashionable in the developmental field to admit that one enjoys the company of
babies, Tasimi clearly does. He’d only
been back at work for a few days, and
he often looked agonized when we
walked outside, but in the lab he grinned
broadly. When one of his subjects blew
a blizzard of raspberries, he whispered:
“The best/worst thing about this job is
you want to laugh, but you can’t.”
He needed 16 compliant 12- or 13month-olds to complete a preliminary
study, and I happened to have one
handy, so I brought her along.
The experiment was called “Crackerz.” My OshKosh-clad daughter sat on
her dad’s lap; his eyes were closed, so
he wouldn’t influence her decisions. I
was watching behind the scenes alongside three other adults: one who
worked the puppet show curtain and
squeaked a rubber toy to get the baby’s
attention, one who tracked the baby’s
focus so a bell sounded when it drifted,
and Tasimi, the puppeteer, who managed to make the plush characters
dance around winsomely despite the
metal rod in his ulna. The whole production had the avant-garde feel of
black-box theater: intentionally primitive, yet hyperprofessional.
First, two identical stuffed bunnies,
one in a green shirt and the other in
orange, appeared on stage with plates
of graham crackers. “Mmmm, yum!”
they said. The curtain fell. This was
the equivalent of the opening sonnet
in a Shakespeare play, a sort of framing device for what followed.
The curtain rose again. A lamb puppet
appeared onstage, struggling to open a
plastic box with a toy inside. The orange
bunny flounced over and slammed the
lid shut. My child flinched at this, though
it was hard to say if it was the sound of
the slamming or the rabbit’s nastiness
that spooked her. Her brow furrowed.
Then she got bored. A bell dinged after
she looked away from the scene for two
seconds, and the curtain fell.
It soon rose again: Cue the green
bunny. Instead of foiling the lamb’s

V
1
Watch some ofWarneken’s
studies with infants at
Smithsonian.comjbabies
plans, he helped lift the lid of the toy
box. The baby stared, drummed plump
fingers on the table for a moment, then
looked away. The curtain fell.
This scenario was repeated six times,
so the baby would grasp what she was
seeing, but the green bunny was always
nice and the orange bunny was always
mean. At the curtain call, the lab manager emerged with the two puppets.
Each offered the baby a graham cracker.
I was about to tell the experimenters
that my daughter had never even seen
a graham cracker and was an extremely
picky eater when she grabbed the treat
from the nice bunny, as most ofthe previous babies had done. I felt an unwarranted surge of parental pride. I was not
alone in my delight.
“She chose the good guy!” Tasimi said.
“After all that, she chose the good guy.”
hen babies at the Yale
lab turn 2, their parents
are tactfully invited to
return to the university
after the child’s third birthday. Researchers tend to avoid that event
horizon of toddlerhood, the terrible
twos. Renowned for their tantrums,
2-year-olds are tough to test. They
speak, but not well, and while active
W
don’t watch puppets help: They themselves are asked to help.
The chief scientist is Felix
Warneken, another young researcher,
though not one whose appearance
initially telegraphs baby scientist. He
stands 6-foot-6. He usually greets
children from the floor, playing with
them before standing up at the last
possible moment. “Only then do they
realize they’ve been dealing with a
giant,” Warneken says. He usually
wore the same red sweater in all his
experiments, because he thinks kids
like it. In addition to designing
groundbreaking studies, he has also
dreamed up several toys to reward or
distract subjects, including an ingenious device he calls a jingle box: An
angled xylophone concealed in a cardboard container, it makes a thrilling
sound when wooden blocks are
dropped inside.
Warneken was initially interested
in how little children read the intentions of others, and the question of
whether toddlers would assist others
in reaching their goals. He wanted to
sound out these behaviors in novel
helping experiments-“accidentally”
dropping a hat, for instance, and seeing if the kids would return it.
following civilization’s rules, or punished for breaking them.
Warneken put the notion on hold
while he studied other aspects of toddler cooperation. One day he and a
toddler were bouncing a ball together.
Truly by accident, the ball rolled
away- “the moment of serendipity,” as
Warneken now calls it. His first impulse was to retrieve the toy and carry
on, but he stopped himself. Instead, he
stayed where he was, pretending to
strain for the ball, though he was barely
extending his incredibly long arms.
The little boy watched him struggle,
then after a moment heaved himself
up, waddled over to the toy and- defying the scientific community’s uncharitable expectations- stretched out his
own chubby little arm to hand the ball
to his gigantic playmate.
In the following months, Warneken
designed experiments for 18-montholds, in which a hapless adult (often
played by him) attempted to perform
a variety of tasks, to no avail, as the toddlers looked on. The toddlers gallantly
rescued Warneken’s dropped teaspoons and clothespins, stacked his
books and pried open stubborn cabinet
doors so he could reach inside.
“Eighteen-month-old children would
“They are clever helpers. It is not
something that’s been trained, and they
readily come to help without prompting
or without being rewarded.”
they’re not particularly coordinated.
But not all researchers shun 2-yearolds. The next lab I visited was at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it has made this age
group something of a specialty,
through work on toddler altruism (a
phrase that, admittedly, rings rather
hollow in parental ears).
One advantage of testing slightly
older babies and children is that they
are able to perform relatively complicated tasks. In the Laboratory for Developmental Studies, the toddlers
But while this was an interesting
idea in principle, his advisers at the
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology in Germany said it was
quite impossible in practice. Once
toddlers got their hot little hands on
a desirable object, Warneken was told,
“they’ll just hold onto it, and there’s
no way they’ll give it back.” Besides,
prominent psychologists had previously argued that children are selfish
until they are socialized; they acquire
altruistic behaviors only as childhood
progresses and they are rewarded for
help across these different situations,
and do it very spontaneously,” he says.
“They are clever helpers. It is not something that’s been trained, and they
readily come to help without prompting or without being rewarded.”
The children even help when it’s a
personal burden. Warneken showed me
a videotaped experiment of a toddler
wallowing in a wading pool full of plastic balls. It was clear that he was having
the time of his life. Then a klutzy experimenter seated at a nearby desk
dropped her pen on the floor. She
Janu ary 2013 I SMITHSO NIAN .COM
39
Many of the children tested read
the situation correctly and rushed to her
aid, often yelling “Your can fell!” with
great alacrity before handing it back.
seemed to have great trouble recovering it and made unhappy sounds. The
child shot her a woebegone look before
dutifully hauling himself out of the ball
pit, picking up the pen and returning it
to the researcher. At last he felt free to
belly flop into the ball pit once more,
unawa.re that, by helping another at a
cost to himself, he had met the formal
definition of altruism.
Because they were manifested in 18month -olds, Warneken believed that
the helping behaviors might be innate,
not taught or imitated. To test his assumption, he turned to one of our two
nearest primate relatives, the chimpanzee. Intellectually, an adult chimp
and a 2-year-old are evenly matched:
They have roughly equivalenttool-using skills and memories and perform
the same in causal learning tests.
The first chimps Warneken studied,
nurse1y-raised in a German zoo, were
comfortable with select people. He replaced objects alien to chimps (such as
. pens) with familiar materials like the
sponges that caretakers use to clean
the facilities. Warneken waited in the
hallway, watching through a camera,
as the caretaker dropped the first object: As if on cue, the chimp bounded
over and breezily handed it back. “I was
freaking out!” Warneken remembers.
“l couldn’t believe my eyes, that they
would do that. l was going crazy!”
Once the euphoria faded, Warneken
wondered if perhaps human-reared
chimps had been conditioned to be
helpful to their food providers. So he
arranged for others to conduct a version of the test at the Ngamba Island
Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda,
where semi-wild chimps live . In the
experiment, two researchers appeared
to argue fiercely over a stick: The winner of the fight puts the stick out of the
loser’s reach, and he pines for it as a
40
SMI I HSONIAN .0(.)M I J d nuary 2 01 3
chimp watches. The chimp has to decide whether to hand the prized possession through the bars of the cage to
the vanquished party. Many did.
“The expectation was that initially
the chimps might help, but when they
don’t receive a reward the helping
should drop off over time,” Warneken
says. ·’But there was no such pattern.
They would consistently help when the
person was reaching for the object,”
even in the absence of any payoff.
Maybe the animals would aid people
under any circumstances, assuming a
reward would come their way down the
line. The final step was to see if chimps
would assist each other. So Warneken
rigged apparatuses where one caged
chimp could help a neighbor reach an
inaccessible banana or piece of water-
melon. There was no hope of getting a
bite for themselves, yet the empowered
chimps fed their fellow apes regardless.
Warneken’s chimp work makes the
case that human altruism is a trait that
evolution has apparently endowed us
with at birth. But under what circumstances are toddlers altruistic? Some
recent chimp studies suggest that
chimps won’t help others unless they
witness the dismay of the creature in
need. Are human children likewise “reactive” helpers, or can they come to another’s assistance without social cues?
Warneken created a scenario in which
a clueless experimenter fools around
with a bunch of milk cans at a table as a
2-year-old looks on. Unbeknown to the
adult, some cans start to roll offthe edge.
The experimenter doesn’t ask the
toddler for help: She doesn’t even realize that a problem exists. Yet many of
the children tested read the situation
correctly and rushed to her aid, often
yelling “Your can fell! ” with great
alacrity before handing it back. “You can
see the birth of this proactive helping
behavior from around 1.5 to 2.5 years of
age,” Warneken explains. “The children
don’t need solicitation for helping. They
do it voluntarily.” Proactive helping may
be a uniquely human skill.
rltlclsms ofthe “nice baby”
research are varied, and the
work with the youngest
kids is perhaps the most
controversial. Over the summer, a
group of New Zealand scientists challenged Kiley Hamlin’s watershed
C
“helper/hinderer” study, making international headlines of their own.
They charged that Hamlin and her
co-workers had misidentified the key
stimuli: Rather than making nuanced
moraljudgments about kindly triangles
and antisocial squares (or vice versa,
since the researchers had also switched
the roles assigned to each shape), Hamlin’s subjects were merely reacting to
simple physical events in the experimental setup. The babies liked the
bouncing motion ofthe triumphant circle at the top ofthe hill after the triangle
helped it reach the summit, and they
didn’t like the way the circle occasionally collided with the other shapes.
Hamlin and her colleagues responded that the New Zealanders’ recreation of their experiment was
flawed (for one thing, they let the circle’s goggle eyes look down instead of
pointing at the summit, confusing the
babies’ sense of the goal). Plus, the Yale
team had replicated its results through
the puppet shows, evidence that the
critics didn’t address.
Though Hamlin persuasively dismissed their objections, such methodological worries are never far from
baby researchers’ minds. For instance,
Tasimi had a sneaking suspicion that
in some versions of his puppet shows,
the babies were choosing orange puppets over green ones not because they
had sided with good over evil but simply because they liked the color orange.
(Still, the babies’ preference for helpful
bunnies persisted even when the researchers switched the shirt colors.)
Other critics, meanwhile, fault the
developmental philosophy behind the
experiments. Babies may look like
they’re endowed with robust social
skills, these researchers argue, but actually they start from scratch with
only senses and reflexes, and, largely
through interaction with their mothers, learn about the social world in an
astonishingly short period of time. “I
don’t think they are born with knowledge,” says Jeremy Carpendale, a psychologist at Simon Fraser University.
A toddler’s moral perspective, he says,
is not a given.
And still other scientists think the
baby studies un- CONTINUED ON PAQE 76
J anua ry 2013 I SMITH SONIAN .COM
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derestimate the power of regional culture. Joe Henrich, a University of
British Columbia psychologist, says
qualities like altruism and moral logic
cannot be exclusively genetic, as
evinced by the wide variety of helping
behaviors in hunter-gatherer and
small-scale horticulturist groups
across the world, especially compared
with Western norms. Ideas of the public good and appropriate punishment,
for instance, are not fixed across societies: Among the Matsigenka people
of the Peruvian Amazon, where Henrich works, helping rarely occurs outside of the immediate household, if
only because members of the tribe
tend to live with relatives.
“There are biological effects that
people think are genetic, but culture
affects them,” he says, adding: “Culture
changes your brain.” He points to variations in fMRI brain scans of people
from diverse backgrounds.
Baby researchers themselves have
produced interesting critiques of their
work. In 2009, Warneken wrote that
“children start out as rather indiscriminate altruists who become more
selective as they grow older.” Today,
however, he feels that the picture is
more complicated, with broadly prosocial impulses competing with,
rather than developmentally predating, selfish ones.
Plenty of bleak observations complicate the discovery of children’s nobler impulses. Kids are intensely tribal:
3-month-olds like people of their own
race more than others, experiments
have shown, and 1-year-olds prefer native speakers to those of another
tongue. Yes, a baby prefers the good
guy-unless the bad one, like the baby,
eats graham crackers. If the good guy
is a green-bean eater, forget it. Babies,
in addition, are big fans of punishment. Hamlin likes to show a video of
a young vigilante who doesn’t just
choose between the good and bad
puppets; he whacks the bad guy over
the head. In the spontaneous responses of the newest humans, “We’re
seeing the underbelly ofjudgments we
76
SMITHSONIAN .COM
I J anu ar y 2 01 3
make as adults but try not to,” she says.
Wynn, the Yale scientist, has also
questioned the deepest motives of
Warneken’s tiny altruists, noting that
seemingly selfless actions may actually
be adaptive. As any parent of an 18month-old knows, babies’ helping isn’t
all that, well, helpful. Try as they might,
they can’t really stir the cupcake mix or
pack the suitcase when asked to do so
(and parents, to be fair to the tots, don’t
expect them to succeed but, rather, to
occupy themselves). Perhaps babies are
not really trying to help in a particular
moment, per se, as much as they are expressing their obliging nature to the
powerful adults who control their
worlds- behaving less like Mother
Teresa, in a sense, than a Renaissance
courtier. Maybe parents really would
invest more in a helpful child, who as
an adult might contribute to the family’s
welfare, than they would in a selfish
loafer- or so the evolutionary logic goes.
A different interpretation, Warneken
says, is that in a simpler world maybe
toddlers really could help, pitching in to
the productivity of a hunter-gatherer
group in proportion to their relatively
meager calorie intake. “Maybe the
smallest kid has the smallest water
bucket, the medium kid has the medium
bucket and the adult women carry the
big bucket,” he says. On a recent visit to
Kinshasa, in Congo, where he was conducting.more primate studies, “I saw
this family walking around, and it was
exactly like that. Everyone had firewood
on their heads, and it was all proportional to body size.”
or many researchers, these
complexities and contradictions make baby studies all
the more worthwhile.
I spoke with Arber Tasimi again recently. The metal rod is out of his arm
and he’s back to having evening beers
with friends. Though he still finds babies to be inspiring subjects, their
more sinister inclinations also intrigue him. Tasimi watched a lot of
“Sopranos” reruns during his convalescence and wonders about design-
F
ing a baby experiment based on Hammurabi’s code, to determine whether
infants think, like Tony Soprano, that
an eye for an eye is a fair trade when
it comes to revenge. That’s not all.
“I’m trying to think of a lesser-of-two
evils study,” he says. “Yes, we have our
categories of good and bad, but those
categories involve many different
things-stealing $20 versus raping versus killing. Clearly I can’t use those
sorts of cases with, you know, 13month-olds. But you can come up with
morality plays along a continuum to
see … whethertheyformpreferences
about whether they like the guy who
wasn’t as bad as the other bad guy.”
Likewise, the Crackerz experiment
that my daughter participated in is
headed for a dark turn. Yes, babies
prefer to accept a snack from the good
guy, but what if the bad guy offered
them three graham crackers, or ten?
For a grant proposal, Tasimi put a
working title on this query: “What
Price Do Babies Set to Deal With the
Devil?”
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