A research team from Kyoto University and Toyohashi University of Technology have conducted a research study that shows babies can express empathy for those that are in distress through non-verbal means, even before they have learned to talk.
The study, led by Yasuhiro Kanakogi, used geometric figures, since at this stage of their development, that is what infants relate to. They created a series of animated videos that had one figure be a “victim” and one the “aggressor”, for example, a blue ball and a yellow ball. The first video showed a yellow cube being chased and then attacked and crushed violently by a blue ball. In the next video, their roles are interchanged. Another sequence shows the two figures having no interaction with each other. After the infants watch the video, an assistant who doesn’t know anything about it interacts with the child, by presenting the two shapes, placed away from each other. Researchers observed that the baby reached for the victim shape, instead of the aggressor. To check whether the infants’ choice was made to avoid the aggressor, they added another shape, with the third figure moving independently of the two but at the same speed. This time, the 24 ten-month old infants still chose the “victim” over the aggressor.
Their interpretation of the results of the experiment is that the infants evaluate the roles of victims and aggressors through the interaction, and that they are also capable of showing empathy and “rudimentary sympathy” towards the one in distress. “This simple preference may function as a foundation for full-fledged sympathetic behavior later on,” the study concluded.
[ via Science World Report ]