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Babies can spot injustice better than we can

We all know Batman was driven to fight crime after his parents were murdered in front of him, but a recent study suggests that young Bruce Wayne probably already had that sense of heroic justice long before then.

The study, published in the Nature Human Behaviour journal of January this year, sought to examine whether babies could differentiate between just and unjust actions.

Using simplistic colourful shapes with eyes as characters, a group of babies aged between six and ten months were shown a series of short videos depicting three of these geometric creatures interacting in a variety of ways.

In the experiment, one circular-shaped character played the role of a villain and the other circular-shaped character played the role of a victim, while the cube-shaped shaped character’s role changed depending on the clip being presented.

The clips show the villain-circle pushing the victim-circle around the screen, while the cube character is trapped in a ‘room’ in the middle and forced to watch.

Towards the end of the clip, the ‘room’ trapping the cube character opens up, and the cube either stops the bullying — AKA, is the hero — or just stands by and lets it continue — AKA, is one of those people who pulls out their phone and just films someone being attacked rather than actually trying to help.

It’s the equivalent of the diner fight scene from Kick-Ass (if you’ll permit me to mix my comic-book superhero metaphors), where the eponymous hero muses on the absurdity that society accepts this latter example as normal, while the former example as “crazy”.

In the two different kinds of clips, the cube is a different colour depending on whether they play the hero, or are the good character doing nothing while evil triumphs.

After the babies watched with the clips, they were then presented with two real-life cubes with eyes, in the colours corresponding to those displayed on screen — and then, essentially, encouraged to choose one.

In an overwhelming 17 out of 20 cases, the babies chose the cube which couldn’t site idly by and let another anthropomorphic shape be the victim of bullying, and instead became the hero we deserve.

Following on from this, the babies were then shown a series of videos which simply depicted three geometric characters hanging out — no bullying or heroics were present.

After this series of clips, the babies were, again, asked to choose between the two cubes; but since there had been no significant difference between the two, the results were a straight 50-50 split – neither cube getting an edge over the other.

The study concluded it was the act of heroic influence in the first experiment that resulted in the babies’ choice of cube.

Of course, that does leave those three babies from the first experiment who chose the cube who just let the bullying continue. Let’s just hope their parents never get gunned down in Crime Alley over a string of pearls.

About the author

Tyler is currently based in Canberra, though he rejects this reality and enjoys immersing himself in games, technology, and comics. You can usually catch him trying to find that last shard/flag/feather.
Twitter: @FinalAlchemist

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