I really enjoyed reading Paul Bloom’s article, The Moral Life of Babies, in the New York Times last weekend.
If you missed it, here is the intriguing opening:
Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with two other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the “naughty” one. But this punishment wasn’t enough — he then leaned over and smacked the puppet in the head.
This incident occurred in one of several psychology studies that I have been involved with at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University in collaboration with my colleague (and wife), Karen Wynn, who runs the lab, and a graduate student, Kiley Hamlin, who is the lead author of the studies. We are one of a handful of research teams around the world exploring the moral life of babies.
The article held personal interest for me because of recent experiments in the area of moral psychology that I’ve been working on with a cognitive psychologist colleague. However, what really got me thinking today is the creation of the article itself. How did it come to be?
I assume that Bloom approached the New York Times (although perhaps they approached him, as he’s written for them before) with the thought that he should reach a broader audience with his current research. I, for one, am glad that he did, but while an increasing number of psychologists, behavioral economists, and other academics seem to be having similar urges, others seem quite resistant to the idea. After a behavioral economist friend of mine recently told me about some new studies he was working on, I urged him to write an op-ed as his work seemed to shed important light on a current news topic. Although agreeing that his research had the potential to reframe the debate, he was very wary of the idea of speaking to the public directly. “Why don’t I send you some things and you can write the op-ed,” he said.
What do you think? Does summarizing one’s work for a popular magazine, or writing an op-ed or blog post exploring some of the potential implications of one’s research, stand as a threat to academia or is it something that could make academia more effective?
This is a conversation I hope we can continue on the Situationist in the coming months.
* * *
To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “Implicit Associations on Oprah.” and “Situationism’s Improving Situation.”