Jessica Somerville · The virtuous baby? The limits and limitations of infants’ socio-moral cognition and behavior.
Recently, twin narratives have arisen in both the scholarly literature and in the popular press that depict infants as a. moral judges and b. inherently altruistic. Each of these narratives has a set of corollaries or associated claims: that moral knowledge is built in, thorough, and relatively impervious to experience, and that infants’ moral behavior is unlearned, virtuously motivated, prolific and indiscriminate. In my talk, I will examine these narratives and claims in the context of my laboratory’s research on infants’ sensitivity to distributive fairness norms and infants’ prosocial behavior. Our results contextualize and temper these narratives and claims. First, infants’ socio-moral knowledge emerges over the course of development, is marked by individual differences, and may lack some components of a mature moral response. Second, infants’ prosocial behavior is influenced by experience, and impacted by variables that affect the personal costs and interpersonal benefits of acting prosocially. Together, these findings reveal the limits and limitations of infants’ socio-moral cognition and behavior.