If the French do one thing right, it’s flowers, I’ll give them that. On the treating people like actual humans and not like disposable annoyances front, Parisians are definitely not the leading authority. Though that’s a generalization and generalizations tend to over generalize, which is always bad.

Bad like my host dad proclaiming that the Roma are the cause of all of Paris’ problems while driving me and the Bulgarian girl from my study abroad program (Kalina) to the American Hospital of Paris after some Parisians beat me up and the French hospital told me to leave because I was being a disrespectful bitch. After he realized Kalina was fluent, he spoke on the phone to his wife in Spanish. As if it’s somehow less bad to be an ignorant bigot in another language. Te comprendo, pute.

But the architecture! The Eiffel tower! The history! Oh, if a city or a person could run on history, well there’d never be any reason to be any better. Nevermind that at night you’d find more rats than people under the tower on most nights, just look at how it sparkles every hour on the hour. A big glittery beacon of distraction.

There was invariably a homeless person and a florist on every street corner where I lived, in the sixteenth arrondissement. I overheard it was the “chic” arrondissement by some girls in my study abroad program giggling about their housing assignments. It was rare to have an entire floor of an apartment building to yourself in Paris, though I think what my host parents probably enjoyed most about this was that it gave them the ability to sleep at opposite ends of the apartment; while Madame Beauregard slept in her bedroom, Monsieur Beauregard snored in the little room off of the kitchen where he smoked his tobacco pipe endlessly from the second he arrived home to the second he passed out in his silly sleeping cap and cotton pajamas. For the most part, my host family was never around, except during the evenings when they returned from work to smoke and sleep. They had a son, but he was only ever present during the day, when his parents were gone, so that he could eat their food and play music loudly in the room across from mine. He usually left just before his parents returned.

Every Sunday on my “chic” street, there was an explosion of garbage. I guess that’s why when I asked my host mom where I could throw out my trash, she took the black plastic bag from me and muttered, “C’est compliqué.” (It’s complicated). On one such Sunday when I was walking down the one block of Rue de Rémusat that I traversed each day every day multiple times a day, between the metro station Pont Mirabeau and my apartment building, a van pulled up and rolled to a stop in front of me. A spindly figure hopped out, ripped open a garbage bag, quickly sifted through its contents, retrieved something, and hopped back into the van and drove off. On Sundays the garbage wasn’t just on the street, every garbage bag appeared to have spontaneously vomited up the entirety of its contents onto the sidewalk. I once saw a Parisian garbage man toss the garbage can itself into the hungry mouth of the disposal vehicle, which ate the can right up. Are the Roma begging on the street really costing you, Monsieur Beauregard?


The second weekend I was in Paris I had decided to go out at the last minute with two girls from my program to get dinner. I didn’t want to go outside after what had happened the weekend before and because of all the uncomfortable and relentless eyeballing of Parisian men, but I knew I had to give it another chance and that I couldn’t let one scare ruin my whole experience. When we were walking back to the metro station around 1 a.m., these three men – boys really – who kept getting in my way as I walked down the crowded street stopped in front of me. I kept walking, hitting my shoulder against one of theirs as I pushed past. I shot him a nasty glance over my shoulder just in time to see him shove me to the ground. I fell to my knees but got up immediately and started running – I thought he was going to rob me – but then he pushed me to the ground again and that’s where things get kind of fuzzy. One of the girls who was with me said she pulled a man off of me, and that he had been crouching over me. I still don’t really know what happened, but from my body it looked like I was kicked a lot.

When she pulled him off of me they all ran away. I shot up and started chasing after him. I wanted to hurt him, furious, I was screaming, YOU FUCKING PUSSY, YOU LITTLE BITCH, COWARD, COWARD. That’s when the strangers on the street finally decided it was time to act – by grabbing me and holding me back. Then I was very very dizzy…The other girl I was with had collected up the contents of my purse – keys, credit cards, Euros – which had spilt everywhere when I hit the ground. They didn’t even take anything. Then I was in an ambulance answering questions.

You know I think maybe I’d have been fine, except when I was standing in the lobby of the first hospital (which refused to treat me because I was an angry cunt) waiting for the cab I had called, I thought I was trying to stare outside but really I was staring at my reflection in the darkened glass. It looked like there was a dried trail of blood on my face that originated from my nose. I touched my thumb to the outside of my left nostril, pulled it back, and looked at it. My thumb was unreasonable bloody and I realized I no longer had a nose ring. That whole time I had been angry, I had yelled at the nurse asking me questions trying to assess how bad my concussion was. But for some reason this destroyed me. I had gotten that nose ring five years ago specifically because I thought I looked too weak and girly. I felt like a part of myself had been ripped right out of my face.

A few days after I got beat up and was back at school, the program director told me I should dye my naturally bright blonde hair a normal Parisian brown, so that I didn’t stick out so much.


I have to go to either Saint-Germain-des-Prés or the Jardin des Plantes for my French Literature course. Class is really the only thing that gets me out of the apartment these days. I’ve been here about four weeks now, and the first weekend I was in Paris, some man from a bar stuck his hand down my pants, grabbed my face, and asked me, “Do you want to be raped?” We had been sitting outside the bar in the too-hot-for-September air, talking about journalism. He was a journalist and that’s what I came to Paris for. When my classes finish at the end of October, I’m supposed to begin my internship in journalism for the last two months of my stay. Only this week, I found out they are actually sticking me with a 45-hour-a-week unpaid internship in marketing. MARKETING. Writing product reviews. I think I’d rather have that hand down my pants again.

Oh, this yellow wallpaper isn’t doing me any good. In my room of my host family’s apartment on Avenue Théophile Gautier there is: a desk, a twin mattress on the floor, a huge single pane window, a television that does not work and has no buttons, and this awful foul peeling yellow wallpaper. (Was this some sort of cosmic joke? Sais-tu l’histoire Madame Beauregard?) Marketing. MARKETING. Marketing – a festering hemorrhoid on the asshole of humanity. What could be more opposite? Journalism in my mind is defined as the relentless pursuit of truth (good journalism, that is). I want to be a soothsayer, not waste my time trying to figure out how to convince people to spend their hard-earned money on the latest greatest shit they didn’t need at all. I had romanticized everything, I know. Don’t laugh at me now, they’re all laughing enough. I think my host brother is making fun of me all the time when I hear him speaking in the room across the hall, though I can’t understand his rapid French well enough to know whether or not this is true. It feels like he is. And here I am lying on that mattress on the floor of my room with that book my mom gave me mocking me from my desk. Forever Paris: 25 Walks in the Footsteps of Chanel, Hemingway, Picasso, and More.

It’s been four weeks since I got here, three since I was molested, and two since I was beat up. Two since everybody started treating me like a pariah and two since I’ve been fucking losing it. Or maybe that’s been happening the whole time. Forever Paris –god, please no. I had to be here another three months, and usually three months seems to fly by, but lately the days have been moving like molasses and I feel like a prisoner in solitary confinement.

I don’t want to stay in this room, but I don’t want to leave more. But I do want to leave, I want to go to the Louvre I want to go to the Catacombs I want to just walk around. Oh but the people out there – the people out there. Maybe I’ll just stay in here a little longer and keep reading the news. There’s so much news you know, all around the world things are happening all the time, how can I ever know it all, how can I ever be up to date? Why are celebrities always in the news? I’m sure an economist could explain it to me, but I can never wrap my head around the coexistence of poverty and luxury. One of the saddest things I have ever seen in my life has got to be the pregnant Middle Eastern woman kneeling on the Champs Élysées with her arms cradling her pregnant belly and her hands cradling her cup of change. I didn’t stop.

And I’m from New York City, how did I not notice before? I guess I was blind I was very very blind – I cannot reconcile the way I saw things before and the way I see them now and it makes me revolted by everything especially myself. I used to enjoy getting all dressed up, I mean, I used to take real pleasure in putting outfits together, jewelry, make up, it was like a ritual. Nowadays I roll out of bed and head to class wearing the same clothes I slept in. I don’t want anybody to look at me. I want to be unnoticed. How could I have ever taken pride in my appearance? The way you look doesn’t mean a thing, and all it’s ever gotten me is trouble. My dresses mocked me too, my jewelry sat splayed out on my desk, all these different bracelets and rings and necklaces, and laughed to each other about how vain I was.

Why didn’t I see the homeless before? Maybe it’s just that I liked to walk around in parks or museums though the homeless are everywhere the homeless are my neighbors, you know the biggest park in all of Paris is just a few blocks from my house? But don’t go in the Bois de Boulogne at night, that’s where all the prostitutes have fled.


So, you know, yesterday didn’t quite work out but here is today and hey I’m outside already. When I’m not in the apartment I don’t have any sort of service, and thus am completely incapable of getting in contact with anyone, except for people in France, and I don’t really talk to any people in France. Although sometimes my host mom sends me texts telling me to close the window. That was another reason it was so hard to go outside – at least when I felt trapped in my room, it was my own choice, and I could talk to my friends and family. As soon as I step outside, I can feel how alone I am, and it almost sends me scrambling back inside so I can grab onto another soul. I study creative writing at Johns Hopkins and all of the people in my study abroad program go to Boston University and already knew each other. It’s weird how people don’t want to talk to you after something bad happens as though you’re the one that did it.

I took the Metro all the way to the last stop for the Jardin des Plantes. If the French do another thing right, it’s their metro system, I’ll give them that. It was all nicely color coordinated and the numbers went from one to fourteen, none of this random New York shit where we had one to seven, then A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, then also the J and the Z, the L, and the N, Q, and R lines. There’s this saying in Paris – metro, boulot, dodo, which means, train, work, sleep. That’s because, supposedly, that’s pretty much all Parisians do. Though your typical Parisian work day may start a bit later than it does in America, that long, sometimes two hour, lunch break means there’s not a whole lot of hope that you’ll make it out of the office before 6 o’clock. Even then, you’re looking at an at least thirty minute metro ride before you can burst back into your tiny little apartment. By that point, your day’s pretty much shot. You’re tired, you worked through daylight, and the nicotine from today’s twenty cigarettes is wearing you thin. Lights off, light up, and lie down.

The metro stop was right at the entrance of the Jardin des Plantes. The garden was glorious. I’ve never seen so many different flowers in one place in my life. Rows upon rows upon rows of bushes of flowers taller than me with colors as vibrant as birds of paradise. The sun was beaming, the sky was cloudless, and each step in the garden was like walking into a dream. The petals had colors I previously did not think could exist in nature, only artificially, in dyes. If the French do one thing right, it’s flowers, I’ll give them that.

The flowers were so lovely, so lovely, I started to cry, I wanted to hug these gargantuan flower bushes, I wanted to squeeze them until I osmosed right into them, until I was a happy flower. I walked up and down the garden nine or ten times, just to make sure I saw every one. The garden made me miss my boyfriend even more than I already did. I could only communicate with him exclusively in that awful yellow room. He grew up on a farm, and I always admired the loving and meticulous way he took care of my potted plants when he was around. In October of last year, he gave me two potted lilies. One is still alive and the other festered two weeks ago. As I wandered through the garden, I pretended he was walking with me.

When I was leaving the garden to go to the zoo in the Jardin des Plantes, I saw a woman who didn’t look homeless, but must have been, lift up the lid of a trash can, pull out a recently discarded McDonald’s bag, sort through the remnants, and put all of the scraps into the fry container, which she then put into her bag.

The life of the garden was absent from the zoo. Walking around, I saw binturong sleeping atop his wooden prison, looking for all the world like a lifeless mass of mottled fur. I saw a baby Caucasian tur eating his own feces. I saw a feeble turtle struggle to exit a bowl of salad he had fallen into. The Arabian oryx had a pile of hay stuck on top of his head, having skewered it with his long, sharp horns. A Rocky Mountain Goat watched me watch him.

The zoo was nearly deserted, save for a few touristy couples, small families, and very young school children on class trips. There were hundreds more people in the garden, here I saw maybe nine people in total, not counting the large groups of shrieking school children. I have never seen a zoo with so little activity. And I’ve never seen a zoo with so few zookeepers – I saw more people attending to the garden than the animals.

The children ran and screamed incessantly. I felt sorry for the animals, who had no choice but to listen. The animals in the menagerie could probably hear much better than me, seeing as their designs were not intended to live amongst the clamor of humanity. Here they were, in an infinite loop of shrill, gawking children, rattling their cages and banging on their glass. Nothing moved inside the vivarium, save for the snakes, who slithered endlessly from branch to branch, corner to corner, then back again, their tongues occasionally flicking against the glass in search of an exit.

I left the zoo and sat in the garden for a few minutes before heading home. I walked out and headed back down into the metro, then packed into a train with everyone else. I had never once in my life thought zoos were bad, maybe I was just projecting, but all those animals seemed so sad, the air seemed sad in there. It reminded me of the same two homeless men I saw every single time I took the metro to or from my house. They beg all day, and sleep in the phone booths on Rue de Rémusat at night.

Last weekend, I met up with the friend of a friend of my roommate at Johns Hopkins. I wondered if he had been instructed to hang out with me just because my friends knew how bad I was. Anyway, the friend’s name was Hugo, and when we were walking around last week, I noticed that he always responded to all of the homeless people, and sometimes he gave them money. When I mentioned this, he said that the most painful part of being homeless is not being deprived of their money and possessions, but rather being deprived of their humanity. Homeless people are completely ignored by everyone; they say hello, and it is as if they do not exist (for the most part). We don’t even look at them. And when we do this, he said, we are actively denying their existence and their value as a human being. We are saying that they do not even deserve to be responded to. After that day, I said hello every morning when I passed by the two homeless men who sit together on Rue de Rémusat.

I got off the ten at Pont Mirabeau and went into a Tabac store for some cigarettes.

“Bonjour Madame, je veux acheter les cigarettes…slim.” I didn’t know how to ask for the bitch sticks in French, you know, the skinny ones.

The old lady behind the counter replied, “Tu ne parles pas le français? Quand tu es en mon pays, tu parles ma langue.” (“You don’t speak French? When you are in my country, you speak my language.”)

I just stared. I wanted to say every French curse word I knew, but all except pute seemed to fly from my mind at that critical moment. Instead, I told her I speak French just fine and give me the cigarettes. She gave them to me this time.

I lit up as soon as I stepped outside and headed toward the grocery store across the street. I had quit smoking in May, but I took it up again now that I was here. How could I not? There were more cigarette butts than leaves and the ground as it became fall. I’m an anxious chain-smoker though, it’s horrible.

As soon as I stepped out of the grocery store on Rue de Rémusat with two enormous bags of groceries, the handle of one of my bags ripped off and the bag fell to the ground. One of the homeless men I saw every morning was sitting on the corner. He immediately asked me, in English, if I wanted help carrying my groceries. I told him that was very nice, but that I felt bad because I did not have any money with me, only my credit card. He said that didn’t matter, and picked my heavy bag up off the ground.

“Thank you so much,” I said, “it’s so nice of you.”

“It is nothing, we are kind of like neighbors.” He laughed

Dulce et Decorum Est

Today is Armistice Day. On November 11th, 1918, the world came together in the realization that war is so horrific it must be ended immediately, and the armistice signed in France signified an end to World War I – the “war to end all wars.”

At the time, the bloodshed of WWI marked a massive departure from the wars that came before. With the rise of machine guns came the horrifying ability to wipe out entire generations of young men in a single attack.  Since then, of course, the killing power of the world’s weaponry has only increased exponentially.

Today is a day of peace. We don’t even know a world without horrible death machines. Is it really progress to continually invent more efficient ways to kill each other?

Please take a minute to read (or listen to a reading of) this brilliant poem by Wilfred Owen, a poet and soldier in the first World War. Makes me cry every time!

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

*Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori means “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country.” These are the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace).

The Case for Protecting Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Care

A snowy day outside the Supreme Court
A snowy day outside the Supreme Court

“The widespread use of contraceptives has indeed harmed women physically, emotionally, morally, and spiritually — and has, in many respects, reduced her to the ‘mere instrument for the satisfaction of [man’s] own desires.’”[1] It’s hard to believe that anyone actually thinks this, let alone declares it as fact. But this is just one example pulled from the 59 amicus briefs filed in support of Hobby Lobby, a for-profit corporation arguing for exemption from the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it is an unconstitutional violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs.

When I read some of the more ludicrous quotes from the case briefs aloud to my roommate, she had pretty much the same indignant reaction that most rational people have upon hearing statements like, “the promotion of contraceptive services harms not only women, but it harms society in general,” (another gem from the American Freedom Law center). She got frustrated. She asked me to stop reading because she didn’t want to hear anymore. And that was my initial reaction too – I stopped reading in anger, shook my head and thought, I cannot believe this.

You see, we have a choice. We live in a liberal state where our reproductive freedoms are largely recognized and protected. Yet for far too many women in our country, statements like this aren’t something they can simply tune out. Such ignorance is the unrelenting and unavoidable reality that they live in.

Where are you from? In Texas, a recent law imposing unreasonably strict regulations has forced dozens of clinics to close.[2] In 2011, 44 facilities in Texas offered abortion care. Recently, that number has been cut in half, and by fall 2014, that number is expected to drop even lower, to a mere six. The entire state of North Dakota has but one clinic that provides abortions, while South Dakota and Mississippi have two[3]. Just last week, a federal court of appeals agreed to let Kansas strip family planning funding from Planned Parenthood[4]. In early March, a medical office that provided abortions in Montana was meticulously destroyed and vandalized by the son of the executive director of an anti-choice group called Hope Pregnancy Ministries[5]. That office had only been opened three weeks prior – the owner had been forced to relocate from her previous office after someone purchased the building her office was in. That someone was, somewhat unsurprisingly, none other than the same executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries. Some may think, well Roe v. Wade legalized abortion 41 years ago, what is everyone still arguing about? Yet, around the country, our reproductive rights are being stripped away, piece by piece.

It is insane to me that the Hobby Lobby case ever got as far as the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, March 25th, I got a bus down to D.C. with members of JHU’s Voice for Choice group, and other activists from Delaware and Maryland. We joined the protests outside the Supreme Court as the attorneys presented their oral arguments. On the left, many young women and men touted neon colored or plain white cardboard signs with statements like, “My Birth Control My Decision,” and “Don’t Impose Your Beliefs.” Pro-choice activists gathered around a platform where intelligent speakers informed the crowd of what was at stake should Hobby Lobby win its case. On the right, mostly old white men gathered holding visceral and inaccurate signs, such as one that read “’Choice’ 1st Trimester (10 Weeks) Aborted Fetus” with a graphic poster-sized image of a blood clot digitally manipulated to look more like a human. One woman from the pro-life side walked through our group of supporters from JHU and Planned Parenthood and kindly informed us that we were all robots and should learn to think for ourselves.

Some protestors
In the front, a lovely old lady brandishing a hand-knit uterus. In the back, an abominable sign.
In the front, a lovely old lady brandishing a hand-knit uterus. In the back, an abominable sign.
A close up of that awful sign (sorry, it is graphic, and also digitally altered)
A close up of that awful sign (sorry, it is graphic, and also digitally altered)

As Jon Stewart recently quipped, “let me get this straight: corporations aren’t just people, they’re ill-informed people, whose factually incorrect beliefs must be upheld because they sincerely believe them anyway.” Lets talk about those beliefs – the 600-store chain of craft stores claims that four of the contraceptives it is required to supply under the Affordable Care Act are actually abortifacients, and thus providing these contraceptives places an undue burden on their – sorry, their corporation’s – religious beliefs. These four contraceptives are Plan B One-Step, Ella, and two forms of intrauterine devices. None of these contraceptives act after fertilization. The two brands of emergency contraception delay ovulation, and the IUDs thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg[6]. Fertilization never occurs. There is nothing to abort. Why are we even entertaining the notion of imposing some sincerely held belief that is factually just plain wrong? What’s next? What if the heads of my corporation are Jehovah’s Witnesses? Will I then be denied access to blood transfusions, on the grounds of their sincerely held religious fictions?

Our campus is no stranger to inaccurate and insensitive displays from pro-lifers. Last fall, Voice for Life’s “Cemetery of the Innocents” stuck 139 crosses in the ground near the MSE Library, which was meant to represent the number of fetuses aborted hourly in the United States (the correct number is actually 121[7]) accompanied by a sign that read “3600 Human Beings Were Aborted Yesterday.” Funnily enough, for all this talk of religious belief and fertilized (or in the Hobby Lobby case, unfertilized) eggs being people, the Bible doesn’t say all that much on the subject. In Genesis, the first human became a “living being” when God blew into its nostrils and it started to breathe[8]. Biblical writers thought that life began when you started breathing. With modern technology however, we can determine that what one can conceive to be ‘life’ begins sooner than that – a fetus becomes viable no sooner than the 23rd week. This threshold is defined as the point at which the fetus becomes potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb. A passage from Exodus (21:22) actually describes what the penalty would be should a woman suffer a miscarriage as the result of being injured by a man: “if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”[9] Killing the woman would be murder, yet the miscarriage is treated as a property loss.

If we are really going to make an argument about whose rights trump whose, be it a corporations’ rights to religious freedom, an unborn child’s right to life, or a woman’s right to choose, let’s stick to the facts. Over the past decade in the United States, teen pregnancy rates have been consistently higher in Southern states that fail to provide students with adequate sexual health instruction[10]. Making it more difficult to access contraception will not reduce the rate of pregnancy. Making it more difficult to access safe and legal abortions will not reduce the rate of unintended births, and is sure to result in more unnecessary death for women who are forced to resort to unsafe means. Only education and safe and proper access to contraception and abortion will help women.

A Live Action News article proudly pointed to Voice for Life’s contribution to their cause by stating that the group’s bimonthly harassment outside of Baltimore’s Planned Parenthood clinic has “helped save three babies from abortion” and that they have “even watched one worker quit.” That worker told the group, “You have no idea how much you guys have done with your presence here.”[11] It is unkind, unjust, and downright cruel to impose your personal beliefs on another person’s personal battle. It is never an easy decision. It is sometimes the right decision. But it is always the woman’s decision.

But this isn’t a woman’s issue. If men could get pregnant, birth control would be bacon-flavored and dispensed as freely as condoms. Woman do not get pregnant all by themselves, and they should not be left alone to the task of ensuring their access to reproductive health care remains intact. Women everywhere want the same exact thing for their children – to be able to give them the best life they possibly can. That starts with being in control of when to bring a new life into this world.

Me outside the Supreme Court
Me outside the Supreme Court












*This was written in April, 2014

13th on Dominicus

(For my poetry class, we had to chose from a list of prompts and make it a real scenario. The prompt I chose was “The air is still all week except on Sunday afternoons when the wind blows.”)


13th on Dominicus


We scatter our ashes when we hear

autumn leaves scrape along the cement

because in Eurus the air is still all week except

on Sunday afternoons when the wind blows

through the dusty streets and across the wooden porches

where we hung candy colored wind chimes

like portraits of all the different pills we took.

Chalk dust blue, powder orange, lavender –

always pastels, nothing offensive.

There’s something soothing about pastels,

like the breeze wandering through our wind chimes,

just a reminder that we’re still breathing.

We are a medicated generation,

it’s a wonder we still feel anything at all

when we’re so quick to numb our problems

instead of fixing them. Benzos for anxiety,

opiates for pain, but all they do is make us forget,

we live in a haze, in a fog that won’t lift.

Though for some of us there’s stimulants,

Ritalin, serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Any quick fix, any synthetic happiness will do.

Why work towards personal betterment,

strive for spiritual satisfaction,

when its all right here, between our fingers?

Just swallow, smile, and repeat.

When we were little kids, we all wanted to save the world.

(Some thoughts)

You know, when we were little kids, we all wanted to save the world. Almost every little boy or girl envisions themselves in these grand scenarios where they get to save mankind from the villains. Where good triumphs over evil. But then we grow up, and the bad guys don’t look anything like the Joker, and the battles against evil don’t look anything like the epic, building-smashing, super-powered fights that our heroes always won. We grow up, and we grow to understand that the world is nothing like we imagined, but that it is indeed full of evil.

As adults, we become defeated, apathetic. What we don’t see is that nothing has changed. Why should we stop wanting to fight the evils of the world, why should we stop fighting for peace and justice, just because it isn’t as simple or as fun as sucker punching Dr. Octopus right in the face?

I believe in good. I believe in the good of humankind. And I know that apathy is the biggest killer of man. We can make the world a better place.

Solidarity with the Sun or a Universal Deceleration

I was walking through a sculpture garden on my way to class

on a cold October morning in Baltimore, worrying

about tomorrow when I looked up and realized it was fall.

The leaves had begun to redden and turn and surely

this had happened overnight because how could I have missed

this metamorphosis. Some trees had amber leaves like the tea

my dad loved from England, others orange as my mom’s hair,

but none clung to their green and I halted. Some things sneak up

on you, yet all around me the flowers were wilting and

the trees were wasting until there was no beauty left at all

and just yesterday was my little brother’s birthday – I thought

he was turning six but actually he became eight years old just like that.


I remember a sunny winter day in Madrid

wandering through El Retiro, where a big man blew bigger

bubbles with two great wands and small children danced

trying to catch them. I smiled in the Sabatini Gardens

at nightfall, touched by the way the moon shone no matter where she was

and even though she knew she had to go so soon. I blinked

into Barcelona and “Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus” seared across

La Sagrada’s spires, which soared so high one could spend a lifetime

staring skyward and still never truly see it’s zenith.


Down below, I wandered through the Fiery Fields under Naples

and Pompeii, in underground caverns that sustained the ancients

with yellow tuff, a volcanic ash from the explosive past

of Vesuvius, that morphed under pressure like diamonds into

life-giving sandstone and gave way to sunken reservoirs.


I resurfaced after crossing the Adriatic, through Albania

and into Thessaloniki, where I rose like the White Tower

and scaled its spirals till spring spilled down to shower the steeples,

slickening them so I slipped and thought for sure I would sink,

but instead I was transported to the twin tower in Istanbul,

and there I saw the flowers sweep across the hills like wildfire.


I tore through Turkey, spanned the –stans and cruised across the Caspian

till Zhengzhou, China, to the Shaolin Monastery in Mount Song

where I summoned my own Shaolin, Staten Island, and Shakti,

the yoga center where I meditated in the summertime, listening

to shrill chirps of the crickets and the mournful howls of the wind,

who rattled the wood-paneled windows, as if to remind me

to stop and smell the incense. I awoke in California, where

my mom asked me never to go because I might like it too much

and never come back, since I always say I can’t stand the seasons,

those bitter New York winters, and maybe I should stay

where it’s sunny all the time and things don’t seem to change.

But then just think of all the colors I would lose; static

blinds us to the beauty of difference. The sun may struggle

to rise, but the moon lingers for just a bit longer,

and truly time wouldn’t seem to be going anywhere

at all if I only stopped to look more often. 

The Origins of Morality: Evidence that some aspects of morality are innate


The concept of innate knowledge has incited much dispute among philosophers and cognitive scientists alike. Recent methodological advances have allowed developmental researchers to empirically investigate what innate knowledge humans might actually possess, and how such core knowledge affects infants’ construction of information as they develop and interact with the world. This article focuses on the domain of morality – though morality is not easily defined, it can be understood as a system of values and principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong behavior. Morality, then, requires the ability to evaluate the intentions, goals, mental states, and behavior of others; it involves a sense of fairness and a sense of justice when it comes to the distribution of resources, rewards, and punishments, and sensitivity to the well-being of others (exhibited by empathy), which prompts a variety of prosocial and altruistic behaviors (sharing, helping, cooperating, and comforting others in distress). This article reviews research with infants and toddlers that has demonstrated that from very early in life, humans exhibit a wide range of moral behaviors and judgments: infants evaluate others’ behavior, they are able to distinguish between helpful agents and harmful ones, and they prefer helpful agents over harmful ones; infants collaborate with others to achieve goals, they empathize with others in distress, and have rudimentary senses of fairness and justice. Given that these abilities are present so early in life and can also be observed in other social animals, it is unlikely that these behaviors and judgments emerge solely as the result of socialization and learning. It seems more likely that infants have core knowledge of morality, and that this moral sense evolved to facilitate the cooperative behaviors necessary for successful group living.


Where does our ability to determine right from wrong come from? Why is it that we feel that certain behaviors, acts, or individuals are evil, and that others are good?

Explorations into the origins of morality have long been left to the realms of theology and philosophy, yet in recent decades, psychologists have sought to answer this question empirically by studying moral behaviors and reasoning in humans, as well as by examining similar behaviors in other social animals. Humans are social animals; in order to survive, we must get along and help one another. Our survival depends on our ability to cooperate. Cooperation requires individuals to either equate their self-interests with those of others (based on notions of empathy, fairness, equality, justice, or reciprocity) or to suppress those interests (to help and to share). From an evolutionary standpoint, morality can be understood as a system of motivations and abilities for cooperation. Our sense of morality prompts us to cooperate with others, and regulates our social interactions in a way that helps groups to live together and thrive.

Previous research on the development of morality has speculated that a sense of morality develops over time as the result of parental instruction and socialization, through which children learn what constitutes socially acceptable behavior and gradually build moral codes based on their own interactions and observations (see Spinrad et al., 2006; Turiel, 2006; for reviews). Yet, this explanation fails to consider the role intuitions play in the development of morality, and mounting evidence that certain moral senses exist very early in life renders explanations of moral development that rely solely on learning insufficient. It is far more plausible that moral development builds upon early-emerging social or moral senses about how individuals should treat each other (Dupoux & Jacob, 2007; Greene, 2005; Haidt, 2001, 2008).

In this paper, I will review the literature on moral behavior and reasoning in infancy, as well as some literature on moral behavior in other social animals. I will review studies which demonstrate that infants are capable of social evaluation (e.g. preferring helpers to hinderers; Hamlin, Wynn, Bloom, 2007; Kuhlmeier et. al, 2003; Premack & Premack, 1997) and studies which show that infants have a complex sense of fairness in regards to the distribution of resources (Geraci & Surian, 2011; Sloane, Baillargeon, & Premack, 2012). I will also review literature that examines displays of empathy in young infants (Zann-Waxler et al., 1992), which often prompts their prosocial behaviors. I will argue that the literature suggests that infants do indeed appear to possess an intuitive moral sense, and provides evidence for the theory that humans possess core knowledge of morality. I will further argue that the existence of similar moral evaluations and behaviors in our primate relatives (e.g. the capacity for social evaluation, a sense of fairness, and prosocial behavior) supports the notion that some aspects of morality are innate and can be explained as having evolved to facilitate cooperation within social groups (Melis et al., 2006; Warneken & Tomasello, 2006, 2009; Brosnan, 2003).

Social evaluation

If we are to understand our moral sense as having evolved to promote the cooperative behaviors necessary for successful group living, it would make sense that our moral system would require a sense of fairness, or a sensitivity to equality in regard to resource distribution. The ability to determine fairness when distributing resources also requires the ability to distinguish those who contribute from those who do not, or an evaluative capacity to identify those who are helpful and cooperative from those who are unhelpful and uncooperative, as well as a desire to punish or dislike the latter.

Research has shown that infants engage in cooperative interactions during their first year of life (Bates et al., 1979; Ross & Lollis, 1987). For example, infants coordinate their actions to those of a social partner in cooperative routines (e.g. peak-a-boo) before their first birthday. Evidence has also shown that during the following years (roughly 13 to 30 months), infants become more skilled collaborative partners and become capable of engaging in complementary actions with a social partner in a variety of cooperative activities over the course of the following years. (Brownell & Carriger, 1990; Brownell et al., 2006; Eckerman et al., 1989; Eckerman & Didow, 1989; Warneken & Tomasello, 2007; Warneken et al., 2006). However, exactly how much infants understood about collaborative goals remained unclear. A recent study by Henderson and Woodward (2011) sought to investigate infants’ understanding of the collaborative-goal structure of collaborative actions, and asked whether 14-month-old infants are able to go beyond analyzing the goals of single individuals when they observe two individuals produce complementary actions in order to achieve a collaborative goal.

The researchers used a visual habituation paradigm to assess whether infants understood that collaboration requires that the actions of cooperative partners are both (1) complementary and critical to goal attainment and (2) driven by a shared intention to attain a common goal. During habituation trials, infants saw an event in which one agent (the box-opener) used both hands to retrieve the box, then examined the box and opened the lid. Next, the other agent (the duck-getter) used both hands to retrieve the duck, then played with the duck. Both agents smiled at each other and the box-opener closed the box. The agents smiled at each other again and the trial ended with both agents looking down at the object they had acted on. This sequence of events was the same in both the collaboration and the no-collaboration condition, except that in the no-collaboration condition, the duck was beside, not inside, the box. During test trials, the box and the duck were placed equidistant from one another on a stage in front of the box-opener. The infants watched a series of test events in which the box-opener alternated grasping the box or the duck.

The question of interest was whether infants inferred that the goal of box-opener was to open the box, or if infants inferred that the box-opener’s goal was to retrieve the duck. If infants thought that the box-opener’s goal was the box, they should look longer when the agent unexpectedly reaches for the duck. Similarly, if infants thought that the box-opener’s goal was the duck, they should look longer when the agent reaches for the box. The analysis of infants’ looking times from the collaboration condition revealed longer overall looking times during the box test trials (when the box-opener reached for the box). Thus, infants who watched the collaborative event inferred that the box-opener’s goal during habituation trials was retrieving the duck. Infants who watched the agents act independently in the no-collaboration condition did not show a reliable response to the box-opener’s goal. Henderson and Woodward’s results suggest that 14-month-old infants who viewed the collaborative event interpreted the event in terms of a collaborative goal. The infants looked longer in the test trials when the box-opener reached for the box than when the box-opener reached for the duck, despite the fact that the agent had never touched the duck during the habituation trials. Additionally, infants who viewed the non-collaborative event in which agents acted independently on either the box or the duck did not differentiate between the test events. Their evidence suggests that by 14 months, infants understand that the actions of agents engaged in collaboration is complementary and essential to attaining their goal, and that their actions are undertaken in order to achieve a shared goal. Thus, it is clear that from very early in life, infants are capable not only of engaging in collaboration with others, but also of understanding how the actions of other agents may be coordinated in order to attain a common goal.

While Henderson and Woodward’s work demonstrates that infants understand cooperative behaviors, other research has sought to understand how infants evaluate others based on their behaviors. Previous research has shown that when an infant sees an object moving spontaneously and displaying goal-directed action, the infant will interpret the object as intentional and attribute psychological properties to the object (Premack & Premack, 1990; Biro et al., 2007). A study by Premack and Premack (1997) investigated whether infants attribute value to interactions between intentional objects. Infants (12 months of age, on average) were shown computer-generated animations of spontaneously moving balls. There were two positive interactions between the balls – one ball either “caressed” another, or one ball “helped” another by moving it towards its goal. There were also two negative interactions, in which one ball either “hit” another, or “hindered” it, by preventing another ball from reaching its goal. The researchers used a habituation/dishabituation paradigm and their measures of infants’ looking times revealed that only the infants who had been habituated to a positive condition dishabituated when they viewed a negative condition, and only infants who had been habituated to a negative condition dishabituated when they were transferred to a positive condition. This shows that infants equated a gentle action with a helping action, and also equated a harmful action with a hindering action, despite the fact that these acts were not physically similar. Thus, by 12 months of age, infants attribute value to the interaction of intentional objects: they assign positive value to gentle actions and to goal-helping behavior, and negative value to harmful actions and to goal-hindering behavior.

Premack and Premack’s work demonstrates that 12-month-old infants evaluate intentional objects based on their actions toward other objects, and a study by Hamlin, Wynn, and Bloom (2007) went further by investigating whether 6 and 10-month-old infants evaluate agents based on their actions towards others, and whether the infants form preferences for the agents based on their observations. In their first experiment, infants saw a character (‘climber,’ a block with googly eyes) sitting at the bottom of a hill. During habituation, infants saw the climber attempt to climb the hill, and on the third try, the climber was either helped up the hill by a helper pushing it up from behind, or the climber was pushed down the hill by a hinderer. Next, infants’ preferences were evaluated by giving them the choice to choose between the two blocks (helper and hinderer) and recording which one infants reached for. The choice measure revealed that infants preferred to reach for the helper. This suggests that infants generate preferences for agents based upon their actions towards others.

In experiment 2, Hamlin, Wynn and Bloom sought to assure that infants’ behavior in experiment 1 was really due to social evaluation and not to some general perceptual preferences for upward or downward movement. They showed infants identical events as in experiment 1, except that the blocks did not have eyes. Their results revealed that neither the 10-month-olds or the 6-month-olds robustly preferred the object that pushed up to the object that pushed down. The fact that infants overwhelmingly preferred to reach for the block who pushed up when this action occurred in a social context (when the block was an agent) indicates that infants’ generated preferences based upon their social evaluations of the events, and not on perceptual differences between the events.

The infants’ choice patterns indicate three possibilities: infants may negatively evaluate an agent they observe hindering another (thus find the hinderer aversive); they may positively evaluate an agent they observe helping another (thus find the helper appealing); or they may use both negative and positive evaluation processes. In order to better understand what evaluations infants were basing their preferences on, Hamlin, Wynn, and Bloom conducted a third experiment which included a neutral character. In experiment 3, infants were habituated to either a helper or a hinderer acting on a climber, just as in experiment 1, but they also saw a neutral block moving upward or downward on the hill. The movements of the neutral block were identical to that of either the helper or the hindered except that the movements of the neutral block did not interact with the climber whatsoever. The researchers then tested infants’ preferential reaches, and found that both the 6-month-old infants and the 10-month-old infants responded differently to the neutral block depending upon whether they had to choose between reaching for the neutral block or the helper or between the neutral block or the hinderer. They found that infants reached for the helper over the neutral agent, and that they reached for the neutral agent over the hinderer. This shows that infants not only avoid harmful agents, they also prefer helping agents. Their findings suggest that preverbal infants prefer helping agents to hindering ones, prefer helping agents to neutral agents, and prefer neutral agents to hindering agents. Two evaluative mechanisms are at work here – a preference for prosocial behavior and an aversion to antisocial behavior. The nuance of very young infants’ evaluative capacities lend evidence to the notion that some aspects of morality are innate, as it is unlikely that infants’ consistent preferences for helpers over hinderers is the result of socialization or learning this early in life.

Another piece of adult morality is a sense of retribution or justice, which can be understood as the desire to execute or support the punishment of those who are uncooperative or act as hinderers. A sense of justice also includes the desire to reward those who do cooperate and are helpful. It would make sense that a system of morality would require not only the ability to evaluate the behavior of others, but also a desire to respond accurately to those behaviors of other group members, if we are to understand our moral sense as having evolved to facilitate cooperation. Hamlin, Wynn, Bloom, and Mahajan (2011) asked whether 21-month-old infants exhibited any rudimentary sense of retribution. In this experiment, toddlers were shown a scenario in which a puppet attempted to achieve a goal (e.g. opening a box) and another puppet either helped the first puppet achieve the goal, or prevented it (e.g. by slamming the box closed). Then toddlers were given the opportunity to either reward (by giving a treat to) or punish (by taking a treat from) the puppets. Their results showed that the children preferred to give to the helpful puppet and preferred to take from the unhelpful puppet.

Hamlin et al. (2011) then asked whether even younger infants were sensitive to the fairness of retribution behavior. In their first experiment, the researchers examined whether infants positively evaluate an agent who acts negatively toward another agent who had just acted antisocially. To do this, they showed 5 and 8-month old infants a scenario in which one puppet repeatedly attempted to open a box. Then they saw a trial in which another puppet (prosocial puppet) helped the first puppet open the box, and another trial in which infants saw an antisocial puppet hinder the first puppet by slamming the box closed. After observing these interactions, infants were placed in either the prosocial target condition or the antisocial target condition. In the prosocial target condition, infants watched the prosocial puppet from the previous task playing with a ball, which the puppet then dropped. In separate trials, the prosocial puppet’s ball was either given back by another (the giver) or taken away by another (the taker). In the antisocial target condition, infants watched the same events (puppet drops ball and ball is either returned or taken away) except that the antisocial puppet was the puppet playing with the ball. After observing these events, the infants were then presented with the giver and the taker and encouraged to choose one of them. Their results showed that when the target of the actions was the puppet infants had just observed acting prosocially, infants preferred to reach for the giver. Infants’ preferences were more nuanced however, when it came to reaching for either the giver or the taker when the target of the actions was the antisocial puppet. Five-month-olds preferred to reach for the giver, while 8-month-olds preferred to reach for the taker. These results demonstrate the although younger infants uniformly prefer agents who behave positively or prosocially, by 8 months of age, infants selectively prefer agents who behaved positively toward prosocial agents and agents who behaved negatively toward antisocial agents. This adds to previous evidence that infants’ are capable of making complex social evaluations from very early in life.

Social evaluation in non-human animals

In humans, a capacity for social evaluation and a preference for cooperative individuals emerge very early in life. The early emergence of these abilities lends support to the theory that such abilities and preferences are innate, not learned. The ability to evaluate others based on their actions and a preference for more cooperative individuals can also be observed in other social animals, and this lends further support to the notion that these moral senses are evolutionarily ancient and likely evolved to promote the cooperative behaviors necessary for successful group living.

Observations of chimpanzees in the wild show that chimps seem to coordinate their positions in trees during hunts in order to surround their prey (Boesch, 2000; Watts & Mitani, 2002). However, the cognitive skills behind such cooperative activities remain unclear. A study by Melis et al. (2006) investigated whether chimpanzees know when collaboration is necessary and whether they know to choose the more effective of two potential collaborative partners, based on their previous experience with each partner. In their experiment, eight semi-free-ranging chimpanzees were given the opportunity to recruit a collaborative partner when they either needed help to retrieve the food or did not need help to retrieve the food. The chimps were introduced a feeding platform (a platform with food resting on top) in separate sessions, and the platform was placed out of reach of the subjects. A rope was attached to the feeding platform and both ends of the rope extended into the testing room. If the chimps pulled on both ends of the rope simultaneously, the feeding platform would move toward the chimps and become reachable. If only one end of the rope was pulled, the rope became unthreaded and thus the food remained unreachable. In the collaboration condition, the subject chimp and the partner chimp watched from separate rooms as the rope attached to the feeding platform was positioned so that the two ends of the rope were too far apart for one individual to grasp simultaneously. The subject was then released into the testing room, while the partner remained locked in an adjacent room that only the subject could open. In the solo condition, the ends of the rope were close enough that one chimp could pull both ends at once without help. The researchers found that subjects unlocked the door to recruit their partner significantly more often in the collaboration condition. This demonstrates that chimps are capable of understanding when they need to cooperate with another individual to complete a task.

Given that chimpanzees tend to recruit a collaborator only when needed, Melis et al. conducted a second experiment to test whether chimps can also learn to recruit the more effective of two partners based on their previous interactions. Six chimpanzees that had participated in the first experiment were placed in the testing room. Two potential collaborators were placed in the two rooms adjacent to the testing room. The subject in the testing room could easily unlock the door to either of the two adjacent rooms. The two potential collaborators had demonstrated very different levels of success in the previous experiment when working with the subject to pull the feeding tray within reach. Thus, one potential collaborator was a more effective partner and the other was a less effective partner. The testing procedure was identical to that of the collaborative condition from the first experiment, except that there were now two potential partners locked in two separate rooms. The results of this experiment revealed that the subjects overwhelmingly preferred to recruit the more effective partner. This demonstrates that that chimps are capable of evaluating others based on their previous actions, and also that chimps act in accordance with these evaluations, as they tended to choose the more effective partner.

Fairness when distributing resources and rewards

From an evolutionary perspective, a moral sense that evolved to promote cooperative behavior would understandably require sensitivity to the equitable distribution of resources. The studies above have made it clear that infants are capable of evaluating the actions of others from very early in development. Here I will discuss more studies which demonstrate that infants have a complex sense of fairness from very early in life: by the second year of life, infants expect agents to treat others fairly (Geraci & Surian, 2011) provided that all agents have contributed equally to the cooperative task (Sloane, Baillargeon, & Premack, 2012).

In order to assess whether infants can take into account the outcome of distributive actions when evaluating and reasoning about agents’ actions, Geraci and Surian (2011) examined 12 to 18 month-old infants’ responses to events involving equal and unequal resource distribution. Infants saw animated events in which one agent distributed resources equally between two recipients, and another agent distributed resources unequally between two recipients, while a separate bystander observed all of the distributive actions. Next, infants saw the bystander begin to approach one of the distributors, and infants’ anticipatory looks to either the fair or the unfair distributor were recorded. Geraci and Surian found that infants expected the bystander to approach the fair distributor. Then, infants were presented with two pictures, one of the fair distributor and one of the unfair distributor. Infants preferentially reached for the fair distributor. The results of the experiment reveal that by 12 to 18 months of age, infants possess some rudimentary notions of fairness: infants evaluated agents based on their distributive actions, preferred the fair distributor to the unfair distributor, and reasoned that other agents (within the animation) should likewise prefer the fair distributor.

Infants prefer agents who distribute resources fairly, and they also have expectations about how resources should be distributed. In order to examine infants’ expectations about how agents should distribute resources and rewards to other agents, Sloane, Baillargeon and Premack (2012) conducted an experiment in which 19-month-old infants watched an experimenter distribute resources to two puppets. In the experiment, the infants saw an experimenter divide two desirable items equally or unequally between two puppets, who danced and clapped and responded excitedly when the experimenter showed them the items (two toy cars, two edible cookies, or two toy ducks). The researchers measured looking times to see if infants would detect a violation when the experimenter distributed resources unequally. The results of Experiment 1 showed that infants looked longer when the experimenter distributed resources unequally, which suggests that 19-month-old infants expect others to distribute resources equally between two similar individuals.

What’s more, the results of Experiment 1 show that it is unlikely that the infants’ expectations reflects some low-level cognitive factors, given that infants did not display this expectation when the puppets were inanimate. Everything in the inanimate-control condition was identical to the experimental condition except that the puppets did not move or talk. Measures of infants’ looking times revealed that infants looked equally at both the unfair distribution and the fair distribution events when the puppets were inanimate. Further, infants did not simply expect that similar individuals should have a similar number of items. In the cover-control condition, two opaque boxes were in front of each puppet, and the experimenter removed the box to reveal either one object in front of each agent, or two objects in front of one agent and none in front of the other. This condition removed the role of the distributor, and measures of infants’ looking times again revealed that infants looked equally at both events. This suggests that infants did not simply expect that similar individuals should have a similar number of objects; their expectation has to do with the distribution. Infants in the inanimate condition and in the cover condition looked equally at the two events, which provides further evidence for the claim that 19-month-olds expect a distributor to divide resources equally between two individuals.

Sloane, Baillargeon and Premack conducted a second experiment in order to determine whether infants held more nuanced expectations about the way rewards should be distributed, namely, if infants expected that agents should be rewarded in accordance with the amount of effort they put in to a task. In Experiment 2, 21-month-old infants watched an experimenter ask two participants (human agents, no more puppets) to put away toys. In the explicit condition, the experimenter told the participants that they would receive a reward if they put away the toys, while in the implicit condition, the experimenter did not mention rewards, only asked the participants to put away toys. This was to see whether infants had expectations regarding the distribution of rewards even without an explicit contract. In both conditions, infants watched either one participant working (the worker) to put the toys away while the other (the slacker) played, or both participants working. The experimenter left after telling the participants to put away the toys, and returned after the toys were put away in both the one-works event and the both-work event. The experimenter then looked at the transparent box in front of each participant in order to determine how much work they had done (in the one-works condition, all of the toys were in the transparent box in front of the worker, while in the both-work, the toys had been placed equally in both boxes). Next, the experimenter gave a reward (a sticker) to both participants. The results revealed that infants looked longer in the one-works event in both the implicit and explicit conditions. This suggests that 21-month-old infants expect a distributor to reward individuals in accordance with their efforts. Given that infants still looked longer when the worker and the slacker were rewarded equally even in the absence of any promise of reward for completing the work, it is clear that no prior explicit contract is necessary in order for infants to have expectations regarding the distribution of rewards.

The control condition of the experiment ruled out the possibility that infants looked longer at the one-works event not because they were confused or surprised that the experimenter rewarded the worker and the slacker equally, but because they were responding to peripheral aspects of the events (e.g., they preferred to see all of the toys in one box, or they were confused that the slacker did not help). All of the test events in the control condition were identical, except that the boxes that the participants placed the toys in were opaque, and therefore the experimenter was unable to determine whether both participants had worked or only one had. In this case, infants looked about equally at the one-works and both-work events. This demonstrates that infants held expectations about the actions of the experimenter only when the experimenter could determine who had worked and who had not, as infants did not look longer when the experimenter rewarded the worker and the slacker equally when the experimenter could not see the contents of the boxes. Taken together, the results of these experiments demonstrate that by the second year of life, infants possess context-sensitive expectations about the fair distribution of resources and rewards.

Fairness when distributing resources and rewards in non-human animals

In humans, a preference for equally distributing collaboratively earned resources and for fairly distributing punishment emerges very early in development. The presence of these senses so early in life lends support to the notion that such abilities are innate. The presence of similar preferences for fairness in other social animals provides further evidence for this claim, and also lends support to the notion that that such moral senses are likely the result of evolutionary development favoring fair and cooperative interactions among individuals that facilitate successful group living.

Negative reactions to unequal reward distribution have also been reported in others species, including brown capuchin monkeys (Brosnan & de Waal, 2003), chimpanzees (Brosnan, Schiff & de Waal, 2005) and dogs (Range, Horn, Viranyi & Huber, 2009). Brosnan & de Waal’s study (2003) sought to examine how nonhuman primates (brown capuchin monkeys) respond to unequal reward distribution in exchanges with human experimenters. In the experiment, two monkeys in cages next to each other had to hand the experimenter a rock in order to receive a reward. One monkey was then given a cucumber as a reward while the other monkey, who performed the same exact task, received a grape. Monkeys who received the less desirable reward (the cucumber) were more likely to react negatively, such as by throwing the reward back at the experimenter, beating their arms against the cage in anger, or by refusing to continue participating in the exchanges. Additionally, the experimenters found that the monkeys were even more likely to reject the reward as the situation became increasingly unfair. In an effort-control condition, monkeys saw their partner receive a grape without exchanging a token for the grape. In this case, monkeys were more likely to refuse the cucumber reward or react negatively than they were when they had simply received the less desirable of the two rewards. These findings suggest that monkeys have a rudimentary sense of fairness, as monkeys display behavior that indicates they are averse to inequity.

A study by Brosnan et al. (2010) sought to better understand nonhuman primates responses to inequity. The researchers used the same procedure to test chimpanzees that Brosnan and de Waal (2003) used to test capuchin monkeys. The chimps were trained to exchange an inedible token for a food reward, and then the chimps were tested in pairs as they sat in cages next to each other. When the chimp handed the token to the experimenter, the experimenter held it up in front of the chimpanzee, then held up the reward (a grape was the high-value reward, a carrot was the low-value reward) so that both chimpanzees could see it and gave the reward to the chimpanzee who had just completed the exchange. Their results provided further evidence that nonhuman primates respond negatively to inequity, as the chimpanzees in the study refused to complete the exchange or refused to accept the reward when their partner received a better reward for completing the same task. Surprisingly, the researchers also found that chimpanzees were more likely to refuse the high-value grape when the other chimpanzee received the low-value carrot than when the other chimpanzee also received a grape. The fact that chimpanzees were more likely to react negatively when their partner was not given an equal reward for their equal work than when they both received an equal reward reveals that chimpanzees react negatively to inequity even when they themselves are not the victims of the unequal distribution, and even when the inequity would actually benefit them. This demonstrates that at the very least, chimpanzees are able to detect inequity and can perceive that their partner received a less desirable reward, though the motivation behind their refusal remains unclear.

When capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees receive unequal rewards for performing an equal amount of work as their partner, the animals are likely to throw the reward back at the experimenter or refuse to continue participating in the experiment. Nonhuman primates’ negative reactions to inequity support an early evolutionary origin of inequity aversion. During the evolution of cooperation, it may have become crucial for individuals to compare their own efforts and rewards for those efforts with those of others. These studies provide evidence for the early evolutionary origins of our moral sense; non-human animals exhibit the ability to detect inequity, and further, this ability is not learned through explicit instruction.

Empathy, prosocial behaviors, and altruism

Compassionate emotions often prompt prosocial and altruistic behaviors, such as helping an agent achieve a goal or comforting someone in distress, and these behaviors emerge early in development. Sensitivity to the well-being of others, displayed by a dislike of harm or distress by emotional responses such as empathy, can also be observed very early in life.

Newborns exposed to the sound of another infant crying will display distressed reactions as soon as 18 to 72 hours after birth (Martin & Clark, 1982; Sagi & Hoffman, 1976; Simner, 1971). Newborns reacted more strongly to the sound of another infant’s cry than to other stimuli, including synthetic crying, non-human crying, and the sound of their own crying, which suggests that the distressed reactions displayed by infants were more than just a response to an unpleasant noise, but instead suggest an empathetic response. In Martin and Clark’s (1982) study, calm newborn infants cried in response to hearing the tape-recorded crying of other infants, yet calm infants who heard their own cry made almost no response, and calm infants also showed no response to the cries of a chimpanzee. They found that crying infants continued to cry when they heard the recording of another infant crying, yet when crying infants heard their own cry, they almost completely stopped crying. This suggests that infants’ emotional responses are caused by the distress of their peers. As soon as they are physically capable, infants begin to supplement these emotional responses with various prosocial behaviors, and even adapt their comforting behaviors to best suit the emotional needs of the other individual in distress. Types of prosocial behavior include comforting, defined as providing emotional support to others (Bischof-Kohler, 1992; Johnson, 1982; Zahn-Waxler et al, 1992), sharing, defined as giving food or objects to others (Hay et al., 1991); informing, defined as providing useful information for others (Dunn & Munn, 1986; Liszkowski et al., 2006); and instrumental helping, defined as acting on behalf of others’ goals (Rheingold, 1982; Warnenken et al. 2006; 2007).

Zahn-Waxler and colleagues (1992a) conducted longitudinal studies examining the development of empathy and related behaviors in young children between the ages of 14 and 36 months. Their experiments involved an adult experimenter pretending to be harmed (e.g. banging their knee and crying “ouch!”) while others observed and recorded infants and toddlers’ responses such as concern (e.g. sad looks or saying “I’m sorry”), prosocial behavior (e.g. hugs or asking “Are you ok?”), and empathetic responses such as personal distress. They found that by 14 months, infants exhibit both nonverbal and verbal concern for the adult experimenter, and that these empathetic behaviors increase significantly during the second year of life. By 24 months, nearly all children began to supplement their emotional responses with some form of helping behavior, and the qualities of such prosocial behaviors became more specified to suit the needs of the individual in distress during the second year of life. For example, younger infants reactions consisted mainly of physical attempts to soothe distress, while by 18 to 20 months, toddlers exhibited other forms of prosocial behaviors, such as verbal comfort, advice, sharing, and distraction.

Other studies have examined young children’s ability to cooperate with one another. A study by Brownell, Ramani, and Zerwas (2006) examined developments in children’s early cooperative abilities with peers. The researchers created a task in which 18 to 30-month-old children had to coordinate their actions with a peer in order to achieve a common goal. There were two versions of the task, though in both, each child had to perform the same behavior (pulling a handle) in order to activate a toy. In the first version of the task, each child pulled a different handle and the two handles needed to be pulled near the same time in order to activate the toy. In the second version, children needed to pull the handles sequentially in order to activate the toy (the correct actions were first demonstrated to the children by an adult experimenter in both versions). They found that 24 to 27-month-olds were able take another individual’s behavior into account and thus were able to cooperate successfully and help the other achieve their goal, and that by 30 months, toddlers were able to convey information to their peers about what to do. Their results suggest that the ability to cooperate with peers develops over the second and third years of life and develops in tandem with social understanding.

However, other studies have found that infants are able to coordinate their actions to help another individual achieve a goal even earlier in life when the infant’s social partner is an adult, not a peer. A study by Warneken and Tomasello (2006) investigated instrumental helping in 18-month-old infants. In the experiment, infants were presented with ten different situations in which an adult experiment had trouble attempting to achieve a goal. The difficulties with the goals fell into four different categories: (1) out-of-reach objects; (2) physical obstacles in the way of the goal (e.g. adult wants to put books in a cabinet but the doors are closed); (3) achieving a wrong result (e.g. adult wants to stack books but the book he places on top keeps slipping off the stack); or (4) attempting to achieve a goal through the wrong means (e.g. a spoon falls through a hole and the adult attempts to reach through the small hole to grab it, unaware of the flap on the other side of the box that can be lifted to retrieve the spoon). Their results showed that infants had a tendency to help the adults achieve their goals – infants handed the experimenter out-of-reach objects (but they would not do so if the experimenter had deliberately discarded the object); infants helped the experimenter stack the books (yet not if it appeared that the experimenter was deliberately misplacing the books); infants opened the door of the cabinet when the experimenters hands were full; and infants retrieved the spoon the experimenter could not access by lifting the flap on the box and handing it to him (but not if the experimenter had thrown that object inside the box purposefully).

The difference between infants ability to coordinate their actions with peers and their ability to coordinate their actions to help an adult achieve a goal is likely due to the fact that helping behaviors are more likely to occur if the behavioral or verbal cue for help is made more explicit. Previous studies on prosocial behaviors in young children have involved the experimenter giving an explicit cue, such as searching for an object, reaching for an object, failing to open something, or making a facial expression indicative of sadness or pain (Liszkowski et al., 2006; Dunfield & Kuhlmeier, 2010; Warneken & Tomasello, 2006; Dunfield, Kuhlmeier, O’Connell, & Kelley, 2011). These studies demonstrate that infants and toddlers have a tendency to help others achieve their goals in a variety of situations, even without being directly told to do so, which suggests that young children are naturally inclined to cooperate and to help others.

Empathy can be understood as an emotional response that prompts prosocial behaviors. de Waal has proposed that empathy is an evolved mechanism that promotes altruistic behavior (de Waal, 2008). In a review, Eisenberg and Miller (1987) noted that the ability to empathize often correlated with prosocial behaviors. Research has shown that infants as young as 18 months of age will help others to achieve their goals (such as opening cabinets) when distress cues are present (such as the adult looking confused) even in the absence of reward or reciprocation (Warneken & Tomasello, 2007). In fact, a similar study by Warneken and Tomasello found that the presence of material rewards actually diminished helping behaviors in 20-month-old infants, which suggests that young children are intrinsically motivated to help (Warneken & Tomasello, 2008).

Prosocial behaviors in non-human animals

Helping behaviors have also been observed in chimpanzees. The same study by Warneken and Tomasello (2007) that examined 18-month-old infants helping behaviors in response to ten different tasks also examined three young chimpanzees responses to similar helping tasks. The researchers sought to compare the performance of chimpanzees with that of infants on various tasks designed to assess prosocial behavior and attempted to determine whether instrumental helping is a uniquely human attribute. The same basic instrumental helping tasks were given (with some minor modifications) to three young chimpanzees. They found that the chimpanzees helped in some of the tasks. All three of the chimpanzees helped in the five tasks involving out of reach objects. Even when the chimpanzees had to go further out of their way to help the experimenter (when the object required more effort to retrieve), chimpanzees still helped. It may be the case that chimpanzees did not help the experimenter reliably in the other types of tasks (e.g. those involving physical obstacles, wrong results, or wrong means) because these tasks were more complicated than the out of reach ones. A human’s outstretched arm is quite a straightforward indication of their goal, and it seems likely that chimpanzees (and children) helped more in out of reach tasks because the goal and the need for help in such tasks were easier to understand. Overall, chimpanzees had a tendency to help the experimenter achieve his goal. Like the 18-month-old infants, the chimpanzees had a tendency to help even without receiving any benefit from the action (such as praise or rewards). The results demonstrate that our nearest primate relatives, chimpanzees, also behave prosocially and help others achieve their goals in the absence of rewards. The existence of instrumental helping toward goals in nonhuman primates supports the idea that altruistic behavior is a natural predisposition in social animals, and also lends support to the theory that such cooperative behaviors are the result of evolution intended to promote successful living among groups.

Warneken and Tomasello’s work demonstrates that chimpanzees will help humans achieve a goal, and a study by Horner et al. (2011) sought to determine whether chimpanzees would also behave prosocially toward other chimpanzees. In the experiments, two chimpanzees sat next to each other in separate cages, and one chimpanzee was given a bucket filled with thirty tokens (15 red and 15 green). When the chimpanzee selected the selfish (red) token, only the chimpanzee who had selected the token received a reward (food wrapped in paper). When the chimpanzee selected the prosocial (green) token, both chimpanzees were given a reward. Either choice the chimpanzee made resulted in the acting chimp receiving a reward, yet the results of the experiment found that chimpanzees overwhelmingly made the prosocial choice. When given the choice between helping only themselves or helping themselves and another chimpanzee, chimpanzees preferred to make the choice that would help both of them. This suggests that chimpanzees do care about the well-being of others, and also supports the idea that the drive to behave in an altruistic or prosocial manner when one can help someone else may be evolutionarily ancient. Additionally, there is abundant observational evidence that shows that, like humans, chimpanzees comfort others in distress (de Waal, 1996).


A moral system that evolved to facilitate cooperative behavior would require certain social evaluation skills – it would necessitate not only the ability to evaluate the actions and intentions of others, but also the ability to distinguish agents who are helpful (and would contribute to the success of the group) from agents who are unhelpful (and would detract from the well-being of the group). Beyond mere evaluative capacities, a system designed to promote cooperative behavior would require a sense of fairness and a sense of justice in regard to the distribution of vital resources and to the distribution of rewards and punishments. This means not only the ability to detect inequity or uncooperative behavior, but a propensity to respond negatively to inequity and uncooperative agents.

The literature reviewed in this paper make it clear that humans possess all of these abilities from a very young age and thus may have core knowledge of morality. By 12 months, infants evaluate goal-helping behavior as positive and goal-hindering behavior as negative. By about 8 months, infants are capable of evaluating agents based on their actions and use those evaluations to identify an agent as either helpful or unhelpful, and as early as 4 ½ months of age, infants prefer helpful agents to unhelpful or hindering ones. By the second year of life, infants have a complex sense of fairness; 12 to 18 month old infants prefer fair distributors to unfair distributors, and infer that others should likewise prefer a fair distributor, and 20-month-old infants expect rewards to be distributed according to effort (slackers should not receive the same reward as someone who worked). As young as 21 months of age, children have some sense of justice when it comes to evaluating the behavior of others, and prefer to distribute resources appropriately in accordance with this sense of justice – that is, toddlers prefer to take away resources from an antisocial or uncooperative individual and distribute resources to prosocial or cooperative individuals. Further, infants demonstrate empathy from a very early age. From birth, newborns display rudimentary signs of empathy by crying more at the distress of another baby. By the second year of life, infants and toddlers overwhelmingly tend to comfort others in distress and attempt to help others achieve a goal in any way they can.

We may infer that the displays of prosocial, altruistic, and cooperative behaviors detailed above stem from an innate source of motivation. It is unlikely that such behaviors are solely the result of socialization or learning, given that these behaviors occur very early in development, are also exhibited by our primate relatives, and decrease in the presence of external rewards. Indeed, research with non-human primates demonstrates that both human infants and chimpanzees appear intrinsically motivated to help others in need. Given that such altruistic tendencies emerge very early in life, it seems unlikely that their behaviors are a result of socialization and an internalization of an altruistic norm. It is more likely that children (and similar social animals) have a natural predisposition to behave altruistically. It is plausible that children begin as naïve or indiscriminate altruists, and that their behavior becomes more complex over time, in order to avoid being exploited by other individuals. The ability to identify “hinderers” or cheaters is an important facet of an innate moral mechanism evolved to promote altruistic behavior, as the absence of an ability to discriminate between those who may eventually reciprocate favors and those who most likely will never contribute would render altruistic behavior not evolutionarily viable. The early emergence of altruistic tendencies and the existence of altruistic tendencies in nonhuman primates (even in the absence of socialization practices) all give evidence for the claim that social animals have a predisposition for altruism, and that socialization is not the original source of altruistic tendencies.

The literature reviewed in this paper show that other social animals also exhibit abilities related to the moral sense. Chimpanzees behave prosocially toward conspecifics and will help a human experimenter reach out of reach objects. Capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees both react aversely to inequity, which shows that nonhuman primates have a sense of fairness. Additionally, chimpanzees are capable of social evaluation, base their evaluations on the actions of others, and use those evaluations to determine who would be a better cooperative partner.

The early emergence of social evaluation, a preference for fair distributions, a preference for cooperative and helpful individuals, empathy, and helping behavior make it seem quite plausible that such senses are innate and are not the product of socialization or learning, as these senses are displayed very early in life, before the child has really had much of a chance to acquire these senses through learning or instruction. It seems more likely that such senses are present from birth, and moral development builds upon these early-emerging social or moral senses. The fact that other social animals also exhibit a capacity for social evaluation, a sense of fairness, and prosocial behavior, makes it probable that such senses are evolutionarily ancient, and likely exist as a result of evolution favoring cooperation among individuals. Our moral sense guides us to do what is fair and often drives us to act kindly toward others. What we perceive to be our sense of morality stems from within, and leads us to get along with each other. As social animals, humans have long depended on one another for survival, and thus it seems likely that senses related to morality (fairness, social evaluation, empathy) are the product of evolutionary development favoring fair and cooperative interactions among individuals in order to facilitate successful group living.

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