Are We Born Moral?

Are humans born moral? That is, at birth, do we have an innate sense of good and evil and right and wrong? Research undertaken by scholars at the Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center would suggest that it’s true. They use experiments to see how infants as young as three months old respond to moral predicaments, and the results are fascinating.

One of the most predominant experiments used is a puppet show that demonstrates both “good” and “bad” bunnies. Bunny A is shown struggling to open a box. Green Bunny comes over and helps Bunny A to open to box. Once the box is opened, Orange Bunny comes over and slams the box shut. This scenario is repeated many times so the infant can grasp what is happening. After the puppet show, both Green Bunny and Orange Bunny are simultaneously offered to the baby and an overwhelming majority of the time the baby chooses Green Bunny, the good bunny. With older infants, the exercise is repeated except at the end of the puppet show the bunnies come bearing gifts. Green Bunny (the good one) offers a plate with one graham cracker while Orange Bunny (the bad one) offers three. Again, the overwhelming majority of infants chose the Green Bunny and only one graham cracker. Researchers suggest this may be an indicator of an early sense of self-sacrifice. The infant is giving up more treats in order to avoid having to take them from the “bad” bunny.

They haven’t had much, if any, influence in morality since being born. Babies at that age aren’t speaking or moving around on their own so there’s not much opportunity for parents to tell them when they’re being good or naughty. So could it be that they really come into the world with an innate sense of morals? How else can a baby as young as three months old differentiate between good and evil except having been “born’ with it?

So how then does this relate to education? What happens to this innate sense of morality in children when they get to school?

Many school districts spend a lot of time and money developing ethics and character building programs such as Character Counts or PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). These programs are meant to help develop a student’s sense of morals and how to be a “good” person. So if babies are born with these senses developed already, what happens to them between infancy and school where they need to be taught these concepts? Perhaps we need to put a more intense focus on this in the early childhood curriculum to help them retain some of the morality they were born with?

It’s certainly an interesting topic which suggests that we as educators may need to rethink how we support and hone the development of our students’ social, emotional, and moral character.

Bibliography Bloom, P. (2010, May 5). The Moral Life of Babies. Retrieved February 14, 2014, from New York Times: CNN. (2014, February 13). Anderson Cooper 360. Retrieved February 14, 2014, from CNN: Tucker, A. (2013, January). Are Babies Born Good? Retrieved February 14, 2014, from  



Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Hannah T

About Hannah T

I am a 2010 graduate with a degree and certification in Elementary Ed., and I have worked with students from birth to junior high. I believe that one of the most important qualities to surviving a teaching career is a sense of humor. I also strongly feel that students are most successful when they are active and hands-on learners. My Mom was a Special Ed. teacher for almost 30 years, and my Dad was an English major, so I enjoy bouncing blog ideas off the two of them. This usually results in an exchange of great stories with my Mom, and a correction in my writing from my Dad. When they're not available, the job falls to my rescue dog, Coozie.

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