Moral Babies: Preverbal infants know who and what is good and bad

Moral Babies: Preverbal infants know who and what is good and bad J. Kiley Hamlin UBC Psychology

Automatic Evaluation “Big bully” “Blinded by rage and frustration” “The villain”

“Sweet circle” “Lovers” “Innocent Young Things” “Our hero”

Bad guy.

Good guys.

Triangles and circles?? Heider & Simmel, 1944

(See also Haidt, 2001 for evidence for “intuitive” moral judgments)

How do we do this? Automatic Evaluation • Surely some is learned • but which type of experience? • deliberate, slow = result of teaching and cognitive development? • easy, fast = based on every day observations and experiences in the world? resulting automaticity/intuitive nature in adults due to practice (driving) • Perhaps some aspects built-in?

My pursuit: • Determine what, if anything, is built-in and/or develops in the absence of candidate required experiences • language, teaching, enculturation • specific personal experience • Examine a population with much less of these • To what extent do infants’ evaluations map onto adult moral judgments?

Basic methodology: 3 character puppet shows: Protagonist, Helper, Hinderer Goal: Problem:

Reach hilltop

Obtain object

Obtain object

Too steep

Someone else has it

In box, can’t lift lid

Helpful Act:

Unhelpful Act:

Preference for Helpers over Hinderers? •

Depending on age/study, habituate or familiarize infants to helper/hinderer events

We then examine their preference (choice or attention) •

moms close eyes

choice experimenter blind to identity

Some preference results:

Preference: % Infants


Helper Hinderer

** **



Ball: 5 months choice

Ball: 3 months looking


75 50 25 0

Hill: 6 months choice

Hill: 3 months looking

Box: 5 months choice

e.g., Hamlin, Wynn, & Bloom, 2007, Nature; Hamlin, Wynn, in Bloom, 2010, Dev Sci; Hamlin & Wynn, 2011, Cog Dev

But how are they doing this? Helper = good because intends to facilitate what another intends

Hinderer = bad because intends to block what another intends

How are they doing this? • Helping and hindering not differentially familiar or expected • No looking time differences to helpful vs unhelpful events • But they do seem to react positively to helping and negatively to hindering • Blind coders correctly predict what kind of event infants just watched based on their facial expressions (5 & 6 mo conditions)

Hamlin, Wynn, & Bloom, in prep

How are they doing this? But perhaps just something inherent to the stimuli? Inanimate control conditions:

• Pushing up versus down

Pusher-Upper v. Pusher-Downer

Ball-Giver v. Ball-Taker

Box-Opener v. Box-Closer

• Ball leaving versus taking • Box opening versus closing Nope: no preferences in any inanimate conditions: Action must be directed at an agent

How are they doing this?

Helper of agent = good Hinderer of agent = bad

• Maybe they like goal-facilitators and dislike goal-blockers • But adults interpret behavior in context: • e.g., mom blocking baby’s goal to reach light socket • e.g., reward and punishment • A human universal, theorized to stabilize cooperative social systems (Boyd et al, 2003; Fowler, 2005, Hauert et al, 2007; Henrich, 2006; Henrich & Henrich, 2007; Nowak & Sigmund, 2005)

Evaluating Rewarders and Punishers • When adults see others as deserving punishment, we may positively evaluate those who perform infants?

Protagonist with unfulfilled goal

Help act Deserves Reward

Hindering act Deserves Punishment

Evaluating Rewarders and Punishers Prosocial Target

Antisocial Target

(2 separate conditions)





Evaluating Rewarders and Punishers: Results

Choice - % Infants

Helper Hinderer **

100 **


** **






75 50 25 0

Prosocial Target

Antisocial Target


Prosocial Target

Antisocial Target


Prosocial Target

Antisocial Target


Hamlin, Wynn, Bloom, & Mahajan, 2011, PNAS

How are they doing this? By 8 months, Helping good guys = good Hindering bad guys = good

• Evaluating in context! • At least resembles adult intuitions of deservedness/reward/punishment • But maybe 8- and 19-month-olds are just valence matching?

Valence-matching? Causal role in valenced acts critical for evaluation: Only moral agents deserve punishment, not patients If they’re valence matching, they should also prefer hinderer of hindered target

They don’t. (they like the helper)

Receives bad behavior; does not deserve punishment

Does bad behavior; deserves punishment are they doing this? By 8 months, Helping good guys = good Hindering bad guys = good

• Resembles adult intuitions of deservedness/reward/punishment • But maybe evaluations based on analyzing outcomes only • A first-order goal account: infants analyze the goal of the Protagonist only; like those who bring it about (if P = good) and dislike those who prevent it (if P=bad) • In particular, no intention to help/ harm on the part of the Helper/ Hinderer

Intention v Outcome? • Even within a social analysis that incorporates contextual info, infants could evaluate: • The outcome only (causes Protagonist to get goal (+) or not (-)) • The intention only (intends to be nice (+); or mean (-)) • Adults’ judgments incorporate both; kids tend to rely on outcome (e.g., Piaget, 1932, a zillion others) • Some evidence infants capable of distinguishing intention from outcome: • in analysis of others’ goal-directed acts (e.g. Brandone & Wellman, 2009; Carpenter et al, 1998; Hamlin et al, 2008, 2009; Meltzoff, 1995)

• in evaluations of first-party interactions • Failed attempts to help (Behne et al, 2005, Dunfield & Kuhlmeier, 2010)

Failed Attempts: Puppet Shows

Failed Helper

Failed Hinderer

Failed Attempts: Design • 5- and 8-month-olds • Set 1: Can they use intention only?

(Outcomes equal, intentions differ) Failed Helper versus Hinderer Failed Hinderer versus Helper

• Set 2: Intention versus outcome?

(Intention pitted against outcome) Failed Helper versus Failed Hinderer

• Set 3: Do they use outcome only?

(Outcomes differ, intentions equal) Failed Helper versus Helper Failed Hinderer versus Hinderer

Failed Attempts: Results; 8-mo-olds *

Nicer/Better Response Meaner/Worse Response

100 Choice - Percent Infants





Using Intention NS

Privileging Intention


Not Using Outcome




(H+) (FH-)

(FH+) (H-)

(FH+) (FH-)

(H+) (FH+)

(FH-) (H-)

[Help v Failed Hinder]

[Failed Help v Hinder]

[Failed Help v Failed Hinder]

[Help v Failed Help]

[Failed Hinder v Hinder]

Outcomes both good

Outcomes both bad

Outcomes oppose Intention Intentions both good

8-month-olds, n=16 per condition

Intentions both bad

Hamlin, under review

Failed Attempts: Results; 5- and 8-mo-olds Nicer/Better Meaner/Worse


Choice - Percent Infants





(replicated 5-month-old success with Successful Helper v Successful Hinderer) NS









[Help v Failed Hinder] Outcomes both good

[Failed Help v Hinder][Failed Help v Failed Hinder] [Help v Failed Help] Outcomes both bad Outcome opposes Intention Intentions both good n=16 per condition

[Failed Hinder v Hinder] Intentions both bad

Hamlin, under review

Failed Attempts: Conclusions

Positive intention = good Negative intention = bad

• (Also have a control for movement - you can ask me later) • 8-month-olds uniquely use intention • 5-month-olds need both • Neither uniquely utilize outcome


• although characters didn’t play a direct causal role in outcomes here - that would be accidental help/harm • But they are definitely not only going with outcome, nor merely evaluating goal blocking/facilitating

But...adults are still more mentalistic!

Giving Brussels Sprouts = Good? •

Depends who you ask.

Prosocial/Antisocial acts don’t have to look any different

So, you need to know something about the mental states of the target (like their preferences) to know what is helpful/unhelpful for him/her

If you don’t know, you can’t really be praised/blamed

AND preferences tend to be relative: I like brussels sprouts, but I LOVE chocolate

Preference Facilitation Study: Methods

• 10-month-olds • Phase 1: 2 elephants watch as Protagonist grasps the same toy 4X (which one counterbalanced) • Phase 2: Protagonist loses access to toys • Phase 3: One puppet gives access to toy previously grasped, other gives access to toy previously ungrasped

Preference Facilitation Study: Puppet Shows Preference Events repeated 4 times; objects switch each time

Preference Facilitation Study: Puppet Shows Lost Access Event

For half the babies the previously-grasped object switches sides, for half it stays

Preference Facilitation Study: Puppet Shows Door-opening events

Grasped object always where was during the Lost Access Event, only one puppet on stage at a time

Preference Facilitation Study: Design •

Preference-Knowledge (previously shown) •

Grasping one toy and not other (preference inferrable)

Door-Lifters watch (have knowledge of preference)

Preference-NoKnowledge •

Grasping one toy and not other (preference inferrable)

Door-Lifters absent (no knowledge of preference)

NoPreference-Knowledge •

Grasping only toy available (preference not inferrable)

Door-Lifters watch (have knowledge of (lack of) preference)

Preference Facilitation Study: Design Different accounts make different predictions:

Lowest-level (brute physical cues present in stimuli):

• •

Low-level (end-state facilitation w/o mental states):

• •

Prefer Grasped-Door-Lifter in Preference-Knowledge and Preference-NoKnowledge

High-Mid-level: Second-order goal attribution without knowledge/ignorance of goal (assume that if they themselves know goal, everyone knows goal - non-representational mentalistic account):

• •

Prefer Grasped-Door-Lifter in all 3

Low-Mid-level: First-order goal attribution:

• •

Prefer Grasped-Door-Lifter in none (because actions same) or all 3 (if there’s something we’re missing)

Prefer Grasped-Door-Lifter in Preference-Knowledge and Preference-NoKnowledge

High-level mentalistic: Second order goal account that includes knowledge/ignorance of goal (representational mentalistic account):

Prefer Grasped-Door-Lifter only in Preference-Knowledge condition

Preference Facilitation Study: Results Grasped Door-Lifter Ungrasped Door-Lifter


Choice - Percent Infants

100 *

Supports fully mentalistic account!




50 25 0 Preference-Knowledge






Hamlin, Ullman, Tenenbaum, Goodman, & Baker, in revision

Interim Summary/Conclusions • By 3 months of age, infants prefer helpers to hinderers • By 5 months, they react more positively to helping than hindering • By 8-10 months, they: • evaluate behavior in context • privilege intention • incorporate helpers’/hinderers’ representational mental states • This is certainly adult-like!

So what’s with development? •

(At least) 2 big unanswered questions: 1. What’s with kids < 8 mos? Domain-specific or domain-general failures? •

maybe they don’t use context, intention, etc

or maybe they’re just generally limited

2. What’s with kids failing at a whole slew of things like this?? •

Perhaps the failure is with implicit/explicit knowledge and/or verbalization •

Many have suggested this for asymmetries in infants’ v. children’s performance in other domains, like object permanence and theory of mind

Beyond forced choice

• Young infants can’t do much more than look at stuff and choose between puppets • But toddlers can do much more! • In the second year: • Understand many words (most don’t speak much) • Give things • Take things away

Adults use moral language • Don’t have to infer toddler’s conceptual representations of helpers and hinderers • just ask them!! • "Hey (baby), Do you remember the GOOD guy? Can you find the GOOD guy? See these guys? Show me the GOOD guy." • 18-month-olds • Study 1: Hill, distinct intonations, varied the words, between-subjects • Study 2: Ball, same neutral voice for both, all “good/bad,” within-subjects

Language Study: Results Effect with mean may be weaker, but certainly distinguishing them (possibly don’t like touching mean) ** 100 Choice - Percent Infants



Helper Hinderer





50 25 0 Study 1 Nice n=8


Study 1 Mean n=8

Study 2 Nice n=9

Study 2 Mean n=11

Hamlin, Wynn, & Bloom, in prep

Actual Reward and Punishment

• Toddlers can follow simple directions • They can give things and take things away • Infant studies suggest they should interpret these as valenced actions • Do they give to good puppets and take from bad puppets?

Reward and Punishment: Method

• 21-month-olds • 3 steps: 1. Giving game 2. Puppet show 3. Reward OR Punishment induction: “Oh no! There’s not enough treats left!”

Reward and Punishment: Method 2 separate conditions: $

Reward – Give a treat

Punish – Take a treat

There’s only one treat left!

There’s a puppy who didn’t get a treat!

Target of Behavior - Percent Infants

Reward and Punishment: Results Helper Hinderer





75 50 25 0 Reward Condition n=16

Punish Condition n=16

Hamlin, Wynn, Bloom, & Mahajan, in press, PNAS

Target of Behavior - Percent Infants

Valence Matching Control: Results **

100 75

Helpee Hinderee



Actually avoid taking from guy who was hindered before!

50 25 0 Reward Condition n=16

Punish Condition n=16

Hamlin, Wynn, Bloom, & Mahajan, in press, PNAS

Reward and Punishment?

• This is more than forced preference • But not much more - we’re entirely scaffolding their behaviors • They must decide that taking is negative on their own, but we kinda already knew that (even 3-month-olds dislike takers) • what sense are they motivated to punish?

Some anecdotal evidence (very bad): =

Motivated to reward/punish?: Methods 1.

Giving game - practice giving cars back and forth to “Mr. Lion”


Puppet show: •

Protagonist (boy) tries to get toy off high shelf

Helper (girl with blond or brown hair) grabs toy and drops to boy

Hinderer (other girl) grabs toy and runs offstage


Puppet shows preference through statistical sampling (e.g., 22% ducks, 78% frogs in a box, picks up only ducks, as in Kushnir, Xu, & Wellman, 2010


Puppet asks toddler to “give me one” up to 3 times

Are toddlers more likely to give, and to give a preferred toy, if the helpful puppet asks?

If the unhelpful puppet asks, will they refuse to give, or give an unpreferred toy?

Motivated to reward/punish?





Motivated to reward/punish?: Results • About 75% give right away in response to first request • Infants (who give) are not slower in hinderer condition • Suggests refusal because they don’t want to give, not because inhibited around mean guy

Target of Giving - # of infants

• Infants across conditions aren’t slower to give disliked toy


Both Toys Preferred Toy Dispreferred Toy Neither Toy

** *

15 10 5 0 Helpful Puppet Requests n=25

Unhelpful Puppet Requests n=22 Hamlin & Kushnir, in prep

Toddler Studies: Summary & Conclusions • They map the adult labels for good and bad onto puppet show characters @ 18 months

• They direct their own giving behavior toward

helpers and taking behavior toward hinderers @ 21 months

• Something that isn’t a forced puppet choice

scenario, they selectively give helper the toy helper (apparently) likes; do not do so for hinderer @ 21 months

Overall Conclusions • Suggests that some of the tendencies we generally attribute to a sophisticated moral reasoner/actor are already operating in infancy & toddlerhood • Perhaps adult intuition/automaticity is due to these evaluations being built in - even the ones that seem pretty complex

(So) many unanswered questions •

What’s built in? •

Individual differences? •

What’s going on with those 2 kids who choose the mean guy? Not getting it? Actually liking bad?

Is this a stable difference that persists across the lifespan?

Relation between moral judgment and moral action? •

Emotional responses? Cognitive rules about what’s good/bad?

Reward/punishment are moral actions, sort of, but they rely critically on preceding moral judgments

What is the underlying definition of a good act? Does it incorporate group membership? Kin psychology? •

(A growing amount of) preliminary evidence says it does...even in babies

Thanks! • •

Parents and Infants in Vancouver and New Haven, CT

• • •


• • • • • • • •

Karen Wynn Paul Bloom Tomer Ullman Josh Tenenbaum Noah Goodman Chris Baker Neha Mahajan Tamar Kushnir

RA’s at UBC, Yale


Janine Gellerman Zoe Liberman Annie Spokes


Moral Babies: Preverbal infants know who and what is good and bad

Moral Babies: Preverbal infants know who and what is good and bad J. Kiley Hamlin UBC Psychology Automatic Evaluation “Big bully” “Blinded by rage an...

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