Campbell Fiver Family Network

The Moral Child

Do young babies have moral inclinations? Recent findings by UBC researcher Dr. Kiley Hamlin’s suggests they do. Hamlin’s research challenges long-held classic theories of Piaget and Kohlberg that describe children under 6 as amoral. In contrast, Hamlin’s most recent study showed that by 5-8 months of age, children develop a sense of social justice. They approve more of puppets who punish aggressive, mean-spirited acts and who reward kind-hearted acts. Hamlin’s research suggests that even before children walk and talk, they align themselves with those whose behaviour is fair and just. What does this finding mean for parents? Perhaps it means that we can no longer assume a young child is oblivious to our day-to-day social interactions. On the contrary, Hamlin’s work implies that children are observant and that they can discern prosocial behaviour. Hamlin puts it this way, “This study helps to answer questions that have puzzled evolutionary psychologists for decades. Namely, how have we survived as intensely social creatures if our sociability makes us vulnerable to being cheated and exploited? These findings suggest that, from as early as eight months, we are watching for people who might put us in danger and prefer to see antisocial behaviour regulated.” For parents Hamlin’s study implies that good parenting reaches more of the family than we once imagined. Even the wee ones benefit when they see a parent gently band aid a scraped knee or firmly restrain an older child’s angry outburst. Consistent parenting of this nature deepens a babies bond to a parent. In short, principled, temperate parenting shapes children’s relationships and moral sensibilities much earlier than we once thought.


Lisa Scalapino teaches Child Development at Vancouver Island University. She is also a part-time School Psychologist and Educational Consultant. Questions? You can reach Lisa at '; // -->
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