Here is a common view on human development: In the beginning, children can only think about themselves. Slowly, they learn to care about others — or more cynically, they learn to pretend that they care about others. Variations of this view have been promoted by thinkers from Sigmund Freud to Richard Dawkins. This view has then been used to make predictable conclusions about ethics: human morality is either a social construct — fearfully internalized — or a clever tactic, used by selfish individuals to reap the benefits of teamwork.
But what evidence do we actually have about young children’s motivations? Do they genuinely not care about others?
To discuss these questions I have Dr Amrisha Vaish on the show. Vaish is a developmental psychologist at the University of Virginia, famous for her work on pro-social motivations in young children. We discuss issues such as:
- How spontaneous is it for young children to help others?
- Why do children help others? Do they want praise or do they genuinely care about others?
- How early does empathy emerge?
- Different forms of empathy; or the subtle difference between matching others’ emotions versus caring about others’ emotios?
- What should parents do to help children grow to be more caring?
- Neurodiversity and empathy in autism
- Is anyone born a psychopath?
- Where does mundane cruelty (e.g. to animals) come from?
- The difference between sympathy and guilt; and why does the latter emerge later?
- What decades of studying young children has taught Vaish about our species
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Sigmund Freud / Felix Waerneken / Michael Tomasello / Robert Hepach / Joan Grusec / Maayan Davidov / Daniel Batson / Audun Dahl / Celia Brownell / Martin Hoffman / Jan Engelman / Vikram Jaswhwal / Paul Bloom / Peter Singer / Richard Dawkins / Jean Decety / Scott Barry Kaufman / Simon Baron-Cohen
Altruism in Humans (by Daniel Batson) / The Last Manchu (Memoirs of Emperor Puyi) / Transcend (by Scott Barry Kaufman)
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- Becoming Human (Michael Tomasello)
- Just Babies (Paul Bloom)
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