Science Shows We Prefer Compassion And It Grows With Practice

A three-month old infant sits propped up in her mother’s lap, entranced by a puppet show. A small dog tries to lift a heavy bag, and a kind teddy bear helps. Then, as the dog struggles once again to lift the bag, a mean bunny grabs it away.

After the puppet show, the infant is shown both the teddy bear and the dog – and stares at the kind doggy. For infants, that stare indicates liking.

It’s not just newborns. Given the same kind-mean choice 80 to 100 percent of infants and toddlers up to two years old prefer the kind puppet.

That three-month-old was part of a series of such studies by Kiley Hamlin at the University of British Columbia suggesting we come into this world wired to prefer kindness. The data adds to research challenging the assumption that self-interest alone guides us through life, painting human nature as a mix of self-interest and compassion. And converging date strongly suggests we can get better at strengthening the better side of our nature.