Saturday, March 04, 2006

In His Image

I just read an article about a study showing that babies are altruistic ( I have to admit, I didn't know what the word meant until I read the article).   It was pretty interesting so I have copied some of the high points:

Oops, the scientist dropped his clothespin.   Not to worry — a wobbly toddler raced to help, eagerly handing it back.   The simple experiment shows the capacity for altruism emerges as early as 18 months of age.

Toddlers' endearing desire to help out actually signals fairly sophisticated brain development, and is a trait of interest to anthropologists trying to tease out the evolutionary roots of altruism and cooperation.

Psychology researcher Felix Warneken performed a series of ordinary tasks in front of toddlers, such as hanging towels with clothespins or stacking books.  Sometimes he "struggled" with the tasks; sometimes he deliberately messed up.

Over and over, whether Warneken dropped clothespins or knocked over his books, each of 24 toddlers offered help within seconds — but only if he appeared to need it.  Video shows how one overall-clad baby glanced between Warneken's face and the dropped clothespin before quickly crawling over, grabbing the object, pushing up to his feet and eagerly handing back the pin.

Warneken never asked for the help and didn't even say "thank you," so as not to taint the research by training youngsters to expect praise if they helped.  After all, altruism means helping with no expectation of anything in return.
And — this is key — the toddlers didn't bother to offer help when he deliberately pulled a book off the stack or threw a pin to the floor, Warneken, of Germany's Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, reports Thursday in the journal Science.


This really shouldn't surprise me.  After all, we are "Created in His Image" (Genesis 1:26).

And Jesus called a little child and had him stand among them.  And He said:  "I tell you the truth, Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)

1 comment:

Gary Cleveland said...

Hey Pat,

I liked this piece on children. It underscores that we are born in original goodness, not original sin. Even though small children are sometimes naughty, they are mostly nice. They do indeed have a "built-in" propensity to be kind and affirming. Maybe we adults can observe and learn.

Thanks for your insights and your encouragement!

Gary Cleveland