Babies are hardwired to know the difference between right and wrong, according to new research by a Yale University professor.
Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, says that children as young as six-months-old are capable of making the distinction.
The research presents a stark challenge to the belief that children are born as ‘blank slates’ whose morality is defined by their parents and experiences.
Prof Bloom, who led the research by Yale’s Infant Cognition Centre, said: “A growing body of evidence suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.
“With the help of well designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life.
“Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bones.”
In one experiment babies aged between six months and a year watched a puppet show where a red ball with eyes tried to climb a hill.
During the show a yellow square was trying to help the red ball climb the hill, but a green triangle kept trying to push the red ball back down.
At the end of the puppet show 80 per cent of the babies were found to favour the helpful yellow square.
Prof Bloom summed up the findings, saying: “In the end, we found that six- and ten-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual”.
He added: “This wasn’t a subtle statistical trend; just about all the babies reached for the good guy.”
The results were confirmed by another two tests.
However, some critics remain suspicious of the findings.
Dr Nadja Reissland, from Durham University, said: “Everything hinges on who decides what is normal”.
She added: “By saying pushing the ball up the hill is helpful, the researchers are making a moral judgment. The babies might just prefer to see things go up rather than down.”
A number of recent studies have highlighted the importance of discipline for the proper development of children.
Last November a major study concluded that children who receive ‘tough love’– a combination of warmth and discipline – from their parents have the best chance of doing well in life.
The study found that parenting style, not economic background, is the most important factor determining a child’s development of positive qualities such as self-control, empathy and determination.
And in September a top psychologist warned that parents who fail to exert authority have bred a “spoilt generation” of children who believe adults must earn their respect.
Dr Aric Sigman’s research showed that many social problems, including teenage pregnancy and anti-social behaviour, are due to a lack of discipline.