November 21, 2007

The Question Isn't Why Do Babies Do It



pushing shapes.JPG





(From Nature)

The experiment is to grab a bunch of 6 month old and 12 month old babies, and show them a little wooden shape with eyes glued onto it climbing a hill.  Then, while a shape is climbing the hill, another shape either comes up behind it and pushes it upwards ("helps"), or a shape comes from above and pushes it downwards ("hinders.")

They then allowed the infants to reach for either the "helper" or the "hinderer."




12/12 six month old babies reached for the helper.  10/12 ten month olds reached for the helper. 

(Standard science disclaimers apply: further experiments showed it wasn't the shape or color; nor the direction of the movement, only the coupling of two in a helping movement that was preferred.)

So either the babies prefer helpers, or they are averse to hinderers.  To test this, they ran the experiments pairing  1) helper scenario vs. neutral, or 2) hindering scenario vs. neutral.  In 1) 7/8 babies chose the helper, and in 2) 7/8 babies chose the neutral.  In other words, babies both prefer helpers and are averse to hinderers.  Awesome.  If I need backup, I'm calling a baby.

So we have a situation where the overwhelming number of babies prefer "helping" and like to avoid "hindering."  Is this innate?  The age suggests it may be (and the same team has similar data on 3 month olds), though at least one psychologist that Yahoo! asked said they more than likely learned these behaviors from observing adults, etc.

But the question isn't why do babies choose this way.

We have to assume these are randomly selected babies, and they overwhelmingly and homogeneously chose helping.   The real question is why, if presented with a similar choice, do random adults not overwhelmingly choose this way?  If it's innate, why do adults lose it?  If it's learned, why did they forget?  If these are indeed random babies, then presumably all/most humans were once like this.   It's possible that some babies never learned it-- they lived in households were helping wasn't rewarded or modeled, etc.  But what about everyone else who chooses the bad guy?  The most likely explanation is that we learned it, but ignore or overrule it.  Make choices based on other reasons instead.

You can imagine a billion different "reasons:" the guy wants to appear tough/cool.  (Like cheering for the bad guy.)  Deep jealousy or envy over anything symbiotic. Paranoia about anyone "pretending" to be a helper.   Double bind.  A will to power.  Whatever.

But what becomes clear, if you work it through this way, is that whatever the reason, it was a reason chosen.  There was no compulsion, anymore than one is compelled to choose pizza over pasta-- it is a preference born of a myriad of factors, but a preference nonetheless.  You were someone, and you become someone else.

Inevitably and unfortunately, you get to pick who you are.









Comments

(Maybe I missed it, but I a... (Below threshold)

November 21, 2007 4:48 PM | Posted by DrSteve: | Reply

(Maybe I missed it, but I assume that research has shown that adults often choose to be hinderers.) The reasons, as you point out are myriad. One I am currently interested in the psychopath and the question of evil. (I'm writing something combining Alford's understanding of evil with Symington's view of the psychopath.) Anyway, to get back to your post; you do convince me that we change from being helpers. However, where I want to quibble is around the question of 'choice'. Just because there's no compulsion doesn't mean that I choose to be the way I am, does it? The unconscious mind of both psychology and psychoanalysis problematise this, right?

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(Quick question - when I pr... (Below threshold)

November 21, 2007 5:06 PM | Posted by DrSteve: | Reply

(Quick question - when I pressed 'subscribe to this blog's feed' I got a page full of html - wha' happened?)

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"The real question is why, ... (Below threshold)

November 21, 2007 9:31 PM | Posted by Siderea: | Reply

"The real question is why, if presented with a similar choice, do random adults not overwhelmingly choose this way?"

Hmmm. No, I think the obvious "right" preference for adults, evolutionarily speaking, is not quite this pattern shown by infants. Specifically, I would expect that if there's an advantage for infants to prefer helpers in the helper vs. neutral condition, there might be just as innate a preference among adults for the helpee.

After all, adults are oriented toward responding to that which is helpless.

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Inevitably and unfortuna... (Below threshold)

November 22, 2007 2:25 AM | Posted by Rose: | Reply

Inevitably and unfortunately, you get to pick who you are.

I hear you, saying this over and over again, post after post, in different ways. I'd even say that this statement seems to be the "theme" of your blog. I just want you to know that I'm listening, and I'm trying this philosophy out as I observe myself and other people in the world.

Even if it is inevitable, why "unfortunate"? Because we don't choose to be something, someone "better"?

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I'm sorry, but when I read ... (Below threshold)

November 22, 2007 11:06 AM | Posted by Steve: | Reply

I'm sorry, but when I read experiments like the one your described in Nature, I start remembering why so many folks distrust science. There could be so many reasons why the small sample of babies chose the way they did that have nothing to do with the "moral" reasoning of humans. The problem with our science is the desire to over-interpret everything (thanks Freud). I think these BS social psych experiments are the epitome of foolishness because they tell us so much more about the scientists than about the experiments or subjects.

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Interesting. I don't know ... (Below threshold)

November 22, 2007 5:03 PM | Posted by Enid: | Reply

Interesting. I don't know what it means, but I can guess one reason. I might choose the "hinderer" in this experiment because it seemed funnier to me. And if I were really armchair psychoanalyzing, I'd choose the hinderer because as an adult I'm expected NOT to be outwardly selfish or aggressive towards other people, and yet these impulses are still very much a part of my human psychology. Therefore seeing it elsewhere is attractive.

One thing I've wondered about is why certain people choose to be villains or why certain people choose good guys in say, an RPG like World of Warcraft. Or playing the evil path in single player games. It seems to have nothing to do with the morality of that person, they simply have more fun doing the things they can't do in real life.

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I think calling the motion ... (Below threshold)

November 22, 2007 7:59 PM | Posted by Common Reader: | Reply

I think calling the motion of a block "helping" or "hindering" is stupid. Babies might just prefer to see the first block keep doing what it's already doing for mysterious baby reasons.

Alone's response: but they didn't like it when the block kept doing the "hindering" motion.

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"mysterious baby reasons... (Below threshold)

November 22, 2007 8:51 PM | Posted by Stephany: | Reply

"mysterious baby reasons"..exactly.

Or,we are born with control over our lives that many ppl. never realize.

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Hello there. I'm embarrass... (Below threshold)

November 24, 2007 6:52 AM | Posted by Amberite: | Reply

Hello there. I'm embarrassed, but I'm stumped: either there's no "back one page" link, or it's simply not showing up in Firefox with Tor enabled. I'm enjoying this blog and would like to see more of it. Be so kind as to help me out?

Alone's response: thanks for the compliment. I'm not sure what you mean by "back"-- firefox ha a back arrow, but if you came to a post directly, the only way to get to the main page is to click on the "Last Psychiatrist" logo. Oh, and Tor isn't secure anymore.

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You write, "Inevitably and ... (Below threshold)

November 24, 2007 10:56 AM | Posted by Nathaniel: | Reply

You write, "Inevitably and unfortunately, you get to pick who you are." Sartre writes, "Man is condemned to be free." Is it really a bad thing? Embrace it.

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Hey doc,I saw this... (Below threshold)

November 25, 2007 1:03 PM | Posted by Whatever: | Reply

Hey doc,

I saw this article on NY-Times and thought of you. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us plebs.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/magazine/25memoir-t.html?ref=business

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No, I mean to get to the ch... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2007 10:25 PM | Posted by Amberite: | Reply

No, I mean to get to the chronological archives of posts. As it is I can only view them from what is on the front page, or by tags.

(Tor may not be secure, but it gets through the Great Firewall of China, and that's all I'm concerned about here.)

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You're making the unstated ... (Below threshold)

November 28, 2007 10:45 AM | Posted by iwdw: | Reply

You're making the unstated assumption that "innate" behaviour can only materialize as part of an infant, and that any preferences or behaviour patterns that materalize at a later point in development are necessarily learned.

How does that mesh with the near universal presence of adolescent rebellion in human cultures?

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That last line fails.... (Below threshold)

December 19, 2007 12:05 AM | Posted by roymeo: | Reply

That last line fails.

Assuming this desire to help is an innate, inborn thing, what does that have to do with choosing later?

That's akin to saying that if babies are born with blondish hair and later the hair of many is darker, that all them chose to either make their hair darker or leave it that way.

Or if there's a predisposition towards something else--say orientation, that that somehow makes it all choice.

Conclusion is rubbish.

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The reason would be that ki... (Below threshold)