Young children and infants demonstrate some aspects of moral cognition and behavior (which precede specific learning experiences and worldview development).

Recent infant morality research shows that, starting at 14 months of age, infants help others spontaneously without the expectation of any reward (Warneken & Tomasello, 2007).

There has been an explosion of morality research with infants over the last decade. Experimental studies now show that infants already display inborn tendencies towards helping others.[1]

Consider the recent puppetry research with babies: One puppet helps (an individual). Another puppet hinders (a different individual). The babies observe the accommodating and unhelpful conduct. Infants as young as three months respond differently to those puppets.[2]

Six-month-olds also react positively to individuals who help others.[3] At 18 months of age, children themselves quite readily help others to achieve their goals.[4] Pro-sociality has been shown to emerge in children as young as two years of age.[5] And so on.

Although popular, the incorrect belief that humans are born inherently selfish, and then gradually become moral through religious teachings, lacks evidence.[6] For example, in one set of experiments, a person is unsuccessfully reaching for an object. Most of the infants helpfully hand over the object. Even 14-month-olds move to assist. On average, children helped others within 6.9 seconds in experimental trials.[7]

Early development of moral behavior sheds light on why faiths and worldviews are not necessary for the emergence of morality. Cooperativeness, moral judgment, egalitarianism, social evaluation, and proactive helping are inborn and universal. [8-15]

Statement #3
Return to Main Page


  • Banerjee, K., & Bloom, P. (2017). You get what you give: Children's karmic bargaining. Developmental Science, 20(5). PDf
  • Cummins, D.D. (1996). Evidence for the innateness of deontic reasoning. Mind and Language, 11, 160–190. PDf
  • Cummins, D.D. (1996). Evidence of deontic reasoning in 3- and 4-year-olds. Memory and Cognition, 24, 823–29.
  • Engelmann, J. M., Herrmann, E., Rapp, D., & Tomasello, M. (2016). Young children (sometimes) do the right thing even when their peers do not. Cognitive Development, 39, 86-92. PDf
  • Fehr, E., Bernhard, H., & Rockenbach, B. (2008). Egalitarianism in young children. Nature454(7208), 1079-1083. PDf
  • Feiman, R., Carey, S., & Cushman, F. (2015). Infants’ representations of others’ goals: Representing approach over avoidance. Cognition, 136, 204-214.PDF
  • Hamlin, J. K., Wynn, K., & Bloom, P. (2007). Social evaluation by preverbal infants. Nature, 450, 557-559. PDF
  • Hamlin, J.K., Wynn, K., & Bloom, P. (2010). Three-month-olds show a negativity bias in their social evaluations. Developmental Science, 13(6), 923-929. PDF
  • Hardecker, S., & Tomasello, M. (2017). From imitation to implementation: How two‐and three‐year‐old children learn to enforce social norms. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 35(2), 237-248. PDF
  • Heiphetz, L., Lane, J. D., Waytz, A., & Young, L. L. (2018). My mind, your mind, and God's mind: How children and adults conceive of different agents’ moral beliefs. British Journal of Developmental Psychology.PDF
  • Heiphetz, L., Gelman, S. A., & Young, L. L. (2017). The perceived stability and biological basis of religious beliefs, factual beliefs, and opinions. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 156, 82-98.PDF
  • Heiphetz, L., Lane, J. D., Waytz, A., & Young, L. L. (2015). How Children and Adults Represent God's Mind. Cognitive science.PDF
  • Heiphetz, L., Spelke, E. S., & Young, L. L. (2015). In the name of God - How children and adults judge agents who act for religious versus secular reasons. Cognition, 144, 134-149.PDF
  • Hepach, R., Haberl, K., Lambert, S., & Tomasello, M. (2017). Toddlers help anonymously. Infancy, 22(1), 130-145.PDF
  • Hepach, R., Kante, N., & Tomasello, M. (2017). Toddlers help a peer. Child Development, 88(5), 1642-1652.PDF
  • Hepach, R. & Warneken, F. (2018). Early development of prosocial behavior: Revealing the foundation of human prosociality. Current Opinion in Psychology, 20, iv-viii.PDF
  • Herrmann, E., Engelmann, J. M., & Tomasello, M. (2019). Children engage in competitive altruism. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 179, 176-189.PDF
  • Kachel, U., Svetlova, M., & Tomasello, M. (2018). Three‐year‐olds’ reactions to a partner's failure to perform her role in a joint commitment. Child Development, 89(5), 1691-1703. PDf
  • Leslie, A.M., Knobe, J., & Cohen, A. (2006). Acting intentionally and the side-effect effect: 'Theory of mind' and moral judgment. Psychological Science17,421–427. PDf
  • Leslie, A.M., Mallon, R., & DiCorcia, J.A. (2006). Transgressors, victims, and cry babies: Is basic moral judgment spared in autism? Social Neuroscience1 (3), 270 – 283. PDF
  • McAuliffe, K., Blake, P. R., Steinbeis, N., & Warneken, F. (2017). The developmental foundations of human fairness. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(2), 0042. PDF
  • Riedl, K., Jensen, K., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2015). Restorative justice in children. Current Biology, 25(13), 1731-1735.PDF
  • Rossano, F., Fiedler, L., & Tomasello, M. (2015). Preschoolers’ understanding of the role of communication and cooperation in establishing property rights. Developmental psychology, 51(2), 176.PDF
  • Sánchez-Amaro, A., Duguid, S., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2019). Chimpanzees and children avoid mutual defection in a social dilemma. Evolution and Human Behavior, 40(1), 46-54. PDF
  • Siposova, B., Tomasello, M., & Carpenter, M. (2018). Communicative eye contact signals a commitment to cooperate for young children. Cognition, 179, 192-201. PDF
  • Tasimi, A., & Young, L. (2016). Memories of good deeds past- the reinforcing power of prosocial behavior in children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 147, 159-166. PDF
  • Tomasello, M., & Gonzalez-Cabrera, I. (2017). The role of ontogeny in the evolution of human cooperation. Human Nature, 28(3), 274-288. PDF
  • Ulber, J., Hamann, K., & Tomasello, M. (2017). Young children, but not chimpanzees, are averse to disadvantageous and advantageous inequities. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 155, 48-66.PDF
  • Ulber, J., Hamann, K., & Tomasello, M. (2015). How 18-and 24-month-old peers divide resources among themselves. Journal of experimental child psychology, 140, 228-244.PDF
  • Vaish, A., Herrmann, E., Markmann, C., & Tomasello, M. (2016). Preschoolers value those who sanction non-cooperators. Cognition, 153, 43-51. PDF
  • Vogelsang, M., & Tomasello, M. (2016). Giving is nicer than taking: Preschoolers reciprocate based on the social intentions of the distributor. PLoS One, 11(1)- e0147539. PDF
  • Warneken, F. (2016). Insights into the biological foundation of human altruistic sentiments. Current Opinion in Psychology, 7, 51-56. PDF
  • Warneken, F. (2013). The development of altruistic behavior: Helping in children and chimpanzees. Social Research, 80(2), 431-442. PDF
  • Warneken, F. (2013). Young children proactively remedy unnoticed accidents. Cognition, 126(1), 101-108. PDF
  • Warneken, F. , Hare, B., Melis, A.P., Hanus, D., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Spontaneous altruism by chimpanzees and young children. PLoS Biology, 5(7), e184. PDF
  • Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2006). Altruistic helping in human infants and young chimpanzees. Science311(5765), 1301-1303. PDF
  • Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Helping and cooperation at 14 months of age. Infancy, 11(3), 271-294. PDF
  • Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2009). Varieties of altruism in children and chimpanzees. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(9), 397-402. PDF
  • Warneken, F., Chen, F., & Tomasello, M. (2006). Cooperative activities in young children and chimpanzees. Child Development, 77 (3), 640-663. PDF
  • Wynn, K., Bloom, P., Jordan, A., Marshall, J., & Sheskin, M. (2017). Not noble savages after all: Limits to early altruism. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 0963721417734875. PDF
The studies linked on this page are accessible via the researchers' websites and other public domain sources. If not linked, those studies are only available via academic journals.

Select Language:





Português (Brasil)

Português (Europa)





Bahasa Indonesia









More translations
coming soon!

The Brights' Net
P.O. Box 163418
Sacramento, CA 95816 USA

To be counted as a Bright, please use the registration form.

Copyright © 2022 The Brights' Network. All rights reserved.


Creative Commons License
"the brights" logo by The Brights' Net is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at