Babies as young as eight months old support vindictive behaviour towards those who engage in anti social acts and like to see them get punished, a new study has revealed
While previous research shows that babies uniformly prefer kind acts, the new study led by a University of British Columbia researcher also suggests that the babies even dislike those who are nice to bad guys.
"We find that, by eight months, babies have developed nuanced views of reciprocity and can conduct these complex social evaluations much earlier than previously thought," said lead author Prof. Kiley Hamlin.
"This study helps to answer questions that have puzzled evolutionary psychologists for decades."
"Namely, how have we survived as intensely social creatures if our sociability makes us vulnerable to being cheated and exploited? These findings suggest that, from as early as eight months, we are watching for people who might put us in danger and prefer to see antisocial behavior regulated."
For the study, researchers presented six scenarios to 100 babies using animal hand puppets. After watching puppets act negatively or positively towards other characters, the babies were shown puppets either giving or taking toys from these 'good' or 'bad' puppets.
When prompted to choose their favourite characters, babies preferred puppets that punished the bad characters from the original scene compared to those that treated them nicely.
The researchers also examined how older infants would themselves treat good and bad puppets. They tested 64 babies aged 21 months, who were asked to give a treat to, or take a treat away from one of two puppets - one who had previously helped another puppet, and another who had harmed the other puppet. These older babies physically took treats away from the 'bad' puppets, and gave treats to the 'good' ones.
Hamlin, who conducted the research with Karen Wynn and Paul Bloom of Yale University''s Dept. of Psychology, and Neha Mahajan of Temple University, has said that the findings provide new insights into the protective mechanisms humans use to choose social alliances, which she says are rooted in self-preservation.
The study has been recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.