Temple study: Babies recognize villains, and endorse punishment

    Babies like good guys and shun villains — that’s according to a new study from Temple University.

    Babies can not only distinguish between good and bad actions, they also appear to understand the concept of punishment and rewards — and want the bad guy to get punished.

    Using puppets, Temple University researcher Neha Mahajan studied the reactions of eight-month-old babies to different scenarios. When puppets acted mean, and another puppet punished them for their actions, the babies flocked to the enforcer as their favorite toy. Mahajan said the infants stayed away from the mean puppet and kept their distance from puppets who were nice to the villain.

    “Babies seem to have more nuanced views of morality and reciprocity than we had previously thought, and from a very young age they can conduct these complex social evaluations,” said Mahajan.

    Mahajan said in future research she wants to evaluate if babies understand more complex scenarios, for example whether they can distinguish between accidental and intentional actions.

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