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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Just Babies!
I read Paul Bloom's Descartes' Baby: How The Science Of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human some years ago and found it an intriguing and persuasive read. This book in some ways picks up where that one left off. Descartes' Baby had the thesis that babies are born in some sense 'hardwired' for things like a very basic understanding of physics, like that objects...
Published 12 months ago by Kevin Currie-Knight

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Just Babies
This is an interesting read. Bloom introduces several fascinating studies aimed at judging just how inherent morality truly is to humanity. The experiments are clearly described and have come to some intriguing results. Added to this, Bloom peppers the book with research from labs other than his own, along with some philosophy and other historic perspectives as well. It...
Published 8 months ago by Yolanda S. Bean


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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Just Babies!, October 1, 2013
This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
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I read Paul Bloom's Descartes' Baby: How The Science Of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human some years ago and found it an intriguing and persuasive read. This book in some ways picks up where that one left off. Descartes' Baby had the thesis that babies are born in some sense 'hardwired' for things like a very basic understanding of physics, like that objects have some sort of physical permanence and that objects that go up will come down. This book, cataloguing a host of intriguing studies, argues that babies are 'hardwired' for certain basic moral sentiments (a basic sense of justice, fairness, etc).

For instance, in some studies, infants and toddlers will 'help' a stranger by pushing a ball back to the stranger or helping a stranger by reaching for an object the stranger seems to want. In other studies, babies are shown a puppet show with two sets of puppets; in one, the puppets help each other, and in the other, one puppet does not help the other. When given a choice, Bloom reports that a statistically significant number of infants and toddlers choose to play with the helping puppet rather than the non-helping puppet.

Bloom's chapters range from exploring infants' and toddlers' sense of justice (little egalitarians, they tend to be), their sense of empathy (they generally prefer to help others, but this desire increases with age), whether their 'moral sentiments' change when dealing with members of their family or those who look like them, their sense of disgust (both moral and physical), etc. But here is where my mild complaint about Bloom's book starts. While I found the entire book well written and attention-holding, a good half of the book really is not about the moral sense of babies at all, but about what evolutionary accounts there are to humans' moral sense in general. For instance, the chapter on humans' sense of disgust was about 7/8ths a rumination on why humans have a sense of disgust and how much is cultural versus biological, and really only briefly mentioning a few studies about babies' sense of disgust interspersed throughout. Same with the chapter on humans' seemingly innate preference for members of the in-group (those who look like they do or share something in common with them): a few studies having to do with children - of many ages, not just babies - and the rest, theorizing about why we have these biases.

Not that this detracts from the book's interest... if exploring the world of moral psychology in general is your thing. But I do worry that Bloom strays a bit far from what the book is supposed to be about: babies and what kind of innate moral sense they have. Otherwise, the book is a very interesting survey of existing literature (with citations at the end for further reading!) on the world of moral psychology (with SOME emphasis on the moral psychology of babies).
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gem, November 24, 2013
This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
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Sometimes you get more than you expected. Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil is that kind of book. It is a gold mine of ideas that will exceed your expectations. It is the kind of book that is so rich; you could read it many times and find new gems.

Paul Bloom, is a Professor of Psychology at Yale who has authored six books and numerous articles, and writes in a lively conversational and often amusing and unexpected style. He says things like, `We are smart critters' and `...It might well be that the greatest force underlying moral change in the last thirty years of the United States was the situation comedy.'

From the beginning Paul Bloom proposes that certain moral foundations are not acquired by learning, but are the product of biological evolution. Some experiments found that babies have a general appreciation of good and bad behavior. Researchers have evidence that helping others by older children is motivated by their caring for others.

Bloom presents and discusses dozens of experiments and offers many interesting quotes.

He explores the differences between compassion and empathy. `You can have compassion without empathy and empathy without compassion.' He gives examples. He says compassion is not the same as morality.

He explains the theory of mirror neurons and empathy.

There's a fascinating chapter on `Others'.
Bloom devotes this chapter to a `simple theory of the developmental origin of racism,' and cites studies of babies preferring familiar language and accents, suggesting children's preferences are driven by some degree of cultural identification. He discusses the Coalition Theory and language.
Studies show that babies have an adaptive bias to prefer the familiar. He discusses group identification and suggests it is a function of who is and isn't family for the purpose of survival.

There's a chapter about disgust which begins with the sentence, `Disgust is a powerful force for evil.' He discusses what we find disgusting, the origins of our disgust, theories of disgust and how disgusting images of others can `make us meaner' as with the Nazi's and their propaganda against the Jews.

He presents the philosophical split between the consequentialists (judge actions on the basis of their outcomes, such as whether they increase human happiness.) vs. the deontolgists (broader principles should be respected even if they lead to worse consequences.) He cites numerous moral dilemmas.

A onetime reading of this book doesn't give it justice. This is a gem of a book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Goes well beyond babies, November 30, 2013
This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
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Like some other reviewers, I "met" Paul Bloom through his Psych 101 lectures that appear on YouTube. As an ex-professor myself, I appreciated the clarity of his presentations and the way he interacted with his students, along with his wit and intellect.

There's much to enjoy in this book. Bloom has an engaging style of writing that can be deceptive; he's actually delivering some pretty hard-core academic material, sprinkled with references to classical sources and popular culture. He doesn't look for counterintuitive examples that make for popular discussion; in fact, in the last chapter, he specifically disavows popular theories based on emotion and passion in favor of emphasizing the importance of reason.

I especially liked Bloom's discussion of fairness and punishment. He cites studies showing that people will recommend punishment regardless of the outcome; for instance, people say a company should be fined even when the fine will destroy the company, which makes a valuable product.This finding alone deserves more attention, because it's echoed in our outrageously expensive, wasteful justice system. We put people in jail even when there's no gain to society and in fact a huge loss; an editorial in a major, generally liberal newspaper once claimed that we should not let cost deter long prison sentences. It would be hard to imagine someone saying we should not be concerned about cost when it comes to educational or health goals.

More generally, Bloom seems to be moving toward a morality based on social influence. Looking at racism, he discounts theories that racism is based on similarity and familiarity. He suggests instead the "coalition theory," i.e., the notion that racism is a powerful cue to membership in social groups. Language, he suggests, is an even stronger cue.

People tend to behave morally toward those they know and those with whom they share a community, however slight. And it appears that we learn what's considered moral in our own community, and we use what we learn to develop beliefs about what's right for everyone. Since I tend to gravitate more to social psych than developmental, I found these insights fascinating and useful.

There isn't really much about babies, although we learn that young children can make moral judgments fairly early. We learn that racial distinctions become salient as children reach six, and at a certain age children learn that they shouldn't express racist ideas even if they hold those ideas.

This book offers an excellent introduction to the psychology of moral behavior and moral reasoning. I suspect it could be used as an additional text in undergraduate classes. Additionally, it's definitely going to be on the lists of readers who like books about psychology that are both readable and scientific.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking study of morality in infancy, December 20, 2013
By 
Neal Reynolds (Indianapolis, Indiana) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
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This is a fairly easy to read book. The discussion is morality and more specifically addresses the question whether our moral senses are loearned or are innate, born into us from infancy. The author leans toward the latter and he is convincing. Obviously, not all will agree with him, but the important thing is that Paul Bloom gets us to thinking and that after all is, or should be, the primary aim of such a book. There are more questions than answers here, and that's okay. The value here is that we're encouraged to use our own grey cells and not just accept a batch of theory because it's given to us by an intellectual. Students studying human behavior will find this a very important book to include in their studies. Student or not, this is a stimulating book, stimulating to the individual reader's intellect.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll never look at babies the same again., December 15, 2013
This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
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This is a really eye opening book about good and evil. We have always been taught that undesirable behaviors are learned but this book shows us that some things are just innate. I especially loved the section about how babies perceive others- meaning that they show preference for things that are like or similar to what they know. So they are most often attracted to faces and sounds that are close to their lives.
The book is full of non invasive experiments with groups of babies that are absolutely fascinating. I really recommend reading, it's interesting and engaging.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Just Babies, January 5, 2014
This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an interesting read. Bloom introduces several fascinating studies aimed at judging just how inherent morality truly is to humanity. The experiments are clearly described and have come to some intriguing results. Added to this, Bloom peppers the book with research from labs other than his own, along with some philosophy and other historic perspectives as well. It is very well researched with a substantial accounting of his sources. The writing, too, displays humour that brightens the book’s overall tone.

I have never read anything quite like this before - in fact, before this, I had no idea that experiments were conducted on infants as young as five months (but I must admit, the more interesting results come from the older babies). Some of the research will feel familiar to readers who have dabbled into books that look into the morality of animals - both household and wild. But Bloom’s focus here is narrowed to humanity, though not as the title would have you believe “just babies.” The middle section in particular strays pretty far from the types of morality that can be deduced from a baby’s actions.

Still, it’s a thought-provoking read (though Bloom risks alienating his own audience in the end by bringing some light into readers and non-fiction readers in particular!). I think this will almost certainly stir thoughts, reactions and interesting discussions amongst its readers.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why?, November 12, 2013
I started reading this book just after 12-year old and 14-year old children were accused of killing teachers in two separate incidents. I so much want to understand such behavior, but I still don't have all the answers I want.

Although much of this book is about babies and their innate morality, it also relates to those of us who are well beyond that stage. It is written at a level easily readable by a lay person, such as I am, who is interested but not highly educated on the subject.

There were experiments done on babies, but don't worry – these are not the horrid, damaging types done in generations gone by (unfortunately, not that many generations). There were some mentions of animal experiments but not enough to be upsetting to me, even though I hate reading about animal experiments, often not done humanely or with any sense of compassion.

I learned some things that explain why I react to some situations and why other people may react the same or differently, and found the information on punishment especially interesting.

There are things I don't like about the book. In one section, the author has discussed how a horrible act of animal cruelty once was considered hilarious entertainment. The author goes on to say, “We don't do this anymore; should the next step be to stop hunting animals, eating them, and using them for medical research? Some would say yes to all of this too, but then what about the proper treatment and protection of skin cells? Personal computers? Viruses?”

Give me a freakin' break. I am one of those who wants much, much more protection for animals than they now have, and even someone like I am can understand the difference between vivisection on a dog and my personal computer. This argument was taken to such a ridiculous extreme that the author lost some credibility. Based on some of the studies, I don't necessarily agree with all the conclusions drawn by the author, but I still learned a great deal and enjoyed the book.

I was given an advance reader's copy of the book for review, and the quote may have changed in the published edition.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Babies, adults, and our society, January 8, 2014
By 
Read-Only (New York City) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
Just Babies is not just babies. It's the story of how everyday morality comes about--kindness to strangers, taking care of family, revenge against those who have harmed you, and immoral acts that we all engage in to a small or great degree. As a developmental psychologist, the author spends much time on fascinating new research on the sparks of moral reasoning in very young children, 6 months old and less. This research tells us that some of our basic moral judgments are in place as young as babies can be tested. But some seeds of badness are there as well, including the desire for revenge and (in somewhat older children) the desire to receive more than others get. However, the book spends as much time on adult matters, including puzzles such as why people are willing to suffer in order to do harm to others or why they will demand fairness even if it costs them. Such desires make little sense in simple evolutionary or economic theory, and the book is very strong in explaining why such ordinary behaviors are in fact puzzles that need to be explained.

Although erudite in its references to experimental psychology, evolutionary theory, religion, economics, and philosophical ethics, the book is exceedingly easy to read and not at all technical. There are no quotes of Aristotle in the original Greek, nor statistical analyses of experiments. This is the kind of book you can give to your intellectually curious uncle or even bright high school student who is interested in how people become good and bad.

The final chapter, "How to Be Good" raises questions that all of us could benefit from thinking about, both as individuals and as builders of our society. The author's humane perspective on how and why we behave morally brings the book to a very fitting close, one that makes you at least somewhat hopeful about the future of goodness in our society.

In spite of the huge importance of this topic to all of us, it is enjoyable to read while remaining thought-provoking. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read, December 14, 2013
By 
TorridlyBoredShopper "T(to the)B(to the)S" ("Daddy Dagon's Daycare" - Proud Sponsor of the Little Tendril Baseball Team, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
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As a new parent, I thought this would be an interesting read. It was too, and more..As a parent and a social spectator, you wonder not only about your child but about those your child is around, considering what exactly causes specific behavior. I work as a therapist as well and see things on a daily basis that make me wonder what could have been instituted along the way to perhaps curve some troubling issues. The book goes into notions like this, looking at so many topics.

One thing I really found intriguing in the book were the experiments the author discusses, listing how babies develop their sense of morals. Looking at them as merely research, you can see how some troubling issues have been raised as our society progresses. There's theory too, presented by an author that draws you in and keeps you reading. Overall, a really good read that doesn't talk at you but instead keeps you reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We are more than Just Babies., November 20, 2013
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This review is from: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Hardcover)
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This book is not difficult to understand--the writing style is quite lively and upbeat, with allusions to Aristotle and popular culture. It is mostly a review of the literature on the origins of morality as shown through recent psychological experiments. He reviews the evidence that very young babies have an innate sense of right and wrong, of fairness and kindness. But that evidence doesn't go very far. It shows that we share with other social animals an innate sense that it is wrong for the leader to give three pieces of tasty food to one and none to the other. But it is not enough to get us to the point that most human societies eventually get to, of believing that we owe strangers something. Our innate morality is enough to cause us distress when we see another person suffering, but not enough to get us to donate to people we don't know and will never meet.

He also addresses the implications of some sort of innate morality--does this prove that we are merely moral the way a dog obeys its instincts to care for its puppies? Does it mean that God implanted this morality within us? He rejects both possibilities, and says that it is our capacity to reason that leads us to higher conceptions of morality. This explains how our sense of morality can grow, so that few of us have any taste for watching bear-bating or cat-burning as entertainment, while medieval people did, and why few of us consider slavery morally good, or interracial marriage morally evil. We learn and progress using our capacity to reason, to put ourselves in the other person's shoes.We are not merely instinctual, nor necessarily the special creations of God.

I found the book intriguing, interesting, and more or less convincing.
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Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil
Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom (Hardcover - November 12, 2013)
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