Your Toddler Probably Has Something To Teach You About Right And Wrong

puppet justice

Parents consider teaching their children the difference between right and wrong to be an important duty, but a recent study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology suggests that children may have a little something to teach adults, too.

Thanks to an inventive set of experiments conducted via puppet, researchers in Germany and the U.K found that children may have an innate sense of restorative justice and even intervene on behalf of others in addition to themselves when something has gone wrong.

The Background

A growing body of research suggests that babies — yes, babies — actually possess a deep sense of right and wrong. For example, in one particularly illustrative 2010 experiment, babies who were shown plays that depicted either helpful puppets or mean puppets more often than not chose to play with the helpful puppet afterward, signaling a preference for those who do good.

But is the sense of right and wrong so strong in small children that they’re able to actually punish wrongdoers, even if they themselves weren’t personally harmed? In an experiment that builds on the puppet study from 2010, psychological sciences researcher Keith Jensen of the University of Manchester in the U.K. put the question to groups of three- and five-year-olds with the help of a new set of puppets.

The Setup

Children were directed to sit at the empty space of a table, shown above. To their left was a puppet that took on the “victim” role. Across from the child was the puppet who would play the “thief.” To the child’s right is the “cave,” where children could place objects like toys or cookies, so that no one else could access them.

The wooden pull cords that hang from the table can rotate the table clockwise, but they were only —> Read More