How Long Will Children Resist Dealing With Bad Guys?

How Long Will Children Resist Dealing With Bad Guys?

Once again, we see that context is king, or at least hugely important.  The risks we take are always shaped by the rewards at stake.

A recent study in the journal Cognition delves into the morality of children and babies.  You read that right.

In the study, they asked 5 and 8 year olds to choose between getting stickers from a “nice” or “mean” character.  The result?  Even when the mean character offered more stickers, the children chose to stick with the nice character.

But there was a limit: once the offer was upped to 16 stickers from the mean character to 1 sticker from the nice character, most children “sold out” and gave in to the offer.

The results were similar for an analogous experiment in the same study that was performed with 12 and 13 month old babies.  More crackers mean finally breaking the code of morality and giving in to the bad guy.

According to the researchers, some reactions to this study have been to half-jokingly call the children “sellouts.”

But how could it be otherwise?  The only reason this would be surprising is that so many people believe that when it comes to moral and ethical issues, appreciating the role of context dilutes the moral or ethical position, and/or that “truly” moral/ethical behavior should be divorced from any notion of reward – motivated instead by some abstract notion of altruism.

Hogwash!  There is no altruism.  If you are not acting in light of your sense of self, in light of whom are you acting?!  The only question is whether one’s sense of self, ends with themselves.  THAT would be bad.  So when it comes to deals with the devil, it seems that the right question is not so much to make the deal or not, but to ask how good a deal are you able to make.


Brad Hirschfield

Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC's Nightline UpClose, PBS's Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, "For God's Sake," for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.

Leave a Reply