Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality

This – in my opinion – is one of the best 60 Minutes segments the iconic TV news magazine has ever produced.  Through research, it gets at the heart of questions about whether we have an innate sense of right and wrong and how we develop cultural identification and prejudice.

If researchers, teachers and the general public can take some of the ideas to heart, it might help shed some light on why certain problems related to racial, cultural, religious and ethic conditioning are so intractable.  Innate neurological mechanisms in the brain – with years of deep-rooted elemental and almost prototypical responses – are tied to a human instinct to group themselves in a protective “us versus them” kind of stance.  I would say the implications are even more profound when people tend to underestimate the instinctual response, identifications and social groupings around race.  But examining some of these issues help us realize the complexity of these dynamics, and can become a means for having a more open mind when trying to understand what may be going on with people who come from a different background than our own.

We can even take just one dimension of this and see how intricate things can become when we see how the work of the great biologist Konrad Lorenz is really useful in understanding how deep race is a part of our conditioning.  Lorenz did pioneering researching into the concept of “imprinting,” where he would take geese that were freshly hatched and immediately expose them to himself and then the geese followed him around, as if Lorenz was their mother.  Eventually the geese even followed Lorenz and his team in long flight migratory patterns, with Lorenz and his staff being on ultralight aircraft.  I would say that race has a similar “imprint” effect on human children, giving them a deep sense of identification and affinity to their own racial group (or whatever particular racial group they might be surrounded by in early childhood, which could even be different from their own, individual race, e.g. the child could be black or mixed and the parents white).  I made another post in this forum from a 60 Minutes program on infants and their earliest biological responses.  The research showed that in dramatizations with dolls, children will have an instinct to identify with their own group – even with a signifier that is something as random as a type of cookie – and to reject others who are not a part of their “group.”  When you add language, in the form of the SOUND of language, which we actually get from other mother’s voice and we hear her voice in the womb before we are even BORN – you have an extremely powerful grouping of environmental and biological forces, language, ethnicity, linguistics, etc. that create a sense of identification with one’s racial and ethnic group and a rejection of others.  Personally, I think if we are going to have a kind of open “conversation” about race, this is where we need to begin and where we would make the most progress.


Categories: Trends, Observations, Evolution

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