Nothing beats a story that ends with the bad guys getting their comeuppance: evil dictators getting deposed, bank robbers going to jail, Farkus suffering punches to the face by an unhinged, obscenities-spewing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.”
What makes us root for justice to be served? Is this something we learn as children, after that satisfying rush of having told on someone? Or is it something we’re built to want?
A new study found that babies demonstrate a desire for retribution, leading researchers to think justice is yet another hard-wired human characteristic. But what’s particularly interesting is how young this tendency may emerge — around 8 months old!
The findings were published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Lead author Kiley Hamlin, a psychologist from the University of British Columbia, explained how they found evidence of this complex thinking occurred between 5 and 8 months.
Babies in three age groups, 5 months, 8 months and 19 months, watched a short puppet show. One puppet would behave positively toward the others, another would behave negatively. The well-behaved toy then got rewarded. The badly behaved one got punished. After the show, the children were allowed to play with the puppets.
The littlest subjects, the 5-month-olds, mostly went for the puppet that had been nice to everyone. The 8-month-olds, though, mostly chose to play with the puppet that had doled out the punishments. The oldest subjects also liked the puppet that did the punishing, though they took it a step further and punished the bad puppets a bit more.
These findings are significant in that it sheds even more light on what’s going on in developing brains of even the youngest kids. It’s also nice to know that babies are just as sweet as they (mostly) seem.
You can watch video of the subjects being tested here.