Study Shows Young Children Know Right from Wrong

istock / istock

It turns out kids as young as three know what it means to do the right thing. A new study published in Current Biology from University of Manchester-based psychologist Keith Jensen used puppets to test whether three and five year olds have a sense of “restorative justice.”

Dr. Jensen and his team conducted two experiments, both of which involved toys or cookies being taken away from one puppet—either stolen by another puppet, or lost. In both instances, the children tried to remedy the situation. In the first experiment, the children were able to pull a string that trapped the object to prevent the bully puppet from accessing the goods. In the second, the children returned the lost object to its owner.

Dr. Jensen summarized the children’s response for the The New York Times, saying that children are “victim-focused rather than perpetrator focused.” The results, he said, showed “that preschool children are sensitive to harm to others, and given a choice would rather restore things to help the victim than punish the perpetrator.”

Last year, a similar study found that babies as young as three months old can tell the difference between good behavior and bad behavior. In the study, 80 percent of the subjects chose the “good” puppet that helped another puppet rather than the “bad” puppet who got in the other puppet’s way. 

[h/t New York Times]