Are humans born with a sense of right and wrong, or do we come to this world a blank sheet of paper, is evil inherited or a learned behavior? These questions have been pondered by philosophers and religions throughout the human history, and yet we couldn’t know for sure since babies typically didn’t tell us what was on their mind. But now research at the Yale University Baby Lab run by Paul Bloom and his wife Karen Wynn is offering a new way for us to get in inside those tiny heads.

The 60 Minutes: Babies Want Justice & Show Bias In Yale Baby Lab reported by Lesley Stahl suggests what we are born a mixed bag.

Even though babies can’t talk, they can watch puppet shows. It turns out babies as young as three months old, are drawn to nice and helpful puppet characters. When they were asked to choose between the mean and helpful puppets, 75% tested in this research reached for the one who behaved kindly in the show. Three-month-old babies voted with their eyes instead of hands since they hadn’t gained control over the motion of their arms. They looked significantly longer at the nice puppet than at the mean one. It’s known that babies will look longer at things they like.

In another version of the puppet show, a bunny steals a ball from another puppet and refuses to give it back, before running away. In the next scene, the ball thief is attempting to open a box; here again, one puppet is helpful in opening the box, while another slams it shut. This time, 81% of babies prefer the puppet who slammed the box shut. Wynn believed that this proves babies come built in with a sense of justice.

Another experiment revealed the dark side of human nature. Test subjects were offered the choice between graham crackers and Cheerios. Then they watched as two different puppets enjoyed each snack. Babies favored the puppet who shared their preferences. Furthermore, they seemed to want the ‘different’ puppet punished as 87% chose the puppet who treated the ‘different’ one badly versus the other one who helped it out.

What could be an explanation for this? According to Bloom, “we are predisposed to break the world up into different human groups based on the most subtle and seemingly irrelevant cues.” Wynn put it as: “I think we are built to…create us and them.” Knowing this can be a step toward addressing larger, more serious problems, such as bullying and racism.

Younger children seemed predisposed to choose fewer rewards for themselves when it meant that another kid would get nothing. “They don’t care about fairness. What they want is they want relatively more,” Bloom explained. This could be the root cause of sibling rivalry or playground conflicts.

But by the time they hit ages eight, nine, and 10, they are more likely to choose the fairest option, or even give another child more. This shows that maybe social conditioning and education can override our selfish instincts.

So we our biological makeup isn’t all good or bad, and we definitely don’t arrive here a clean slate. From an evolutional point of view, morality and altruism help the species survive. On the other hand, the same instinct also makes us self-focused, selfish and intolerant.

Different situations trigger the exhibition of different human qualities. Disasters and tragedies typically bring people together to help one another out. Yet racism and hatred towards certain diversified groups such as gay and lesbians can still be frequently witnessed. We need to be aware of our strengths and bias and be willing to work towards overriding our innate bias for the good of the whole human race.