New research finds that babies naturally gravitate toward people who cooperate.
A Yale University study published in the journal Nature says that 6 and 10-month-old babies are much more capable judges of character than previously thought. Not only can infants pick out a good Samaritan, they tend to identify with them.
The study released last month presented babies with a diorama-like display of an anthropomorphic circle struggling to make it up a hill. Just when it appeared that all hope was lost, a heroic triangle appeared, and pushed the circle to the top. The round climber bounces, clearly elated to have reached the summit. The same scenario is played out again, only this time a square appears at the top of the hill and pushes the circle to the bottom.
The babies were then asked to pick a toy – the helper or the hinderer, as scientists called them. One hundred percent of 6-month-olds and 87.5 percent of 10-month-olds chose the helper. The results were consistent even when the triangle and the square swapped places as good guy and bad guy. In several other iterations of the experiment, the helper, regardless of shape or color, won out.
"Babies are very competent socially," says Kiley Hamlin, lead author of the study. "They can figure this kind of stuff out without people explicitly teaching what's nice and not nice and who's nice and who's not nice."
We are, by design, born looking for and wanting to associate with people who cooperate. So why is it that we need to teach teamwork?
I propose that even though we are born with an innate desire to cooperate there is a need for people to practice and refine this desire.
There are some people who were born with a natural skill to hit a golf ball - think Tiger Woods - and yet even the best (like Tiger) need a coach to stay on top of their game.
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