Neuroanthropology

For a greater understanding of the encultured brain and body…

Darwin, US Children, and Morals

Posted by dlende on August 21, 2010

The United States recently ranked 20th out of 21 rich countries in a UNICEF study of child well-being. The effects of childhood can last a life-time. Darcia Narvaez, writing with Jaak Panksepp and Allan Schore, argue in their post The Decline of Children and the Moral Sense:

American culture may be deviating increasingly from traditional social practices that emerged in our ancestral “environment of evolutionary adaptedness” (EEA). Empathy, the backbone of compassionate moral behavior, is decreasing…

In fact, the way we raise our children it seems that the USA is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well being and a moral sense.

Together Narvaez and Panksepp are organizing a conference on Human Nature and Early Experience: Addressing the “Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness”, where Schore will be one of the featured speakers.

Charles Darwin had high hopes for humanity. He pointed to the unique way that human evolution was driven in part by a “moral sense.” Its key evolutionary features are the social instincts, taking pleasure in the company of others, and feeling sympathy for fellow humans. It was promoted by intellectual abilities, such as memory for the past and the ability to contrast one’s desires with the intentions of others, leading to conscience development, and, after language acquisition, concern for the opinion of others and the community at large…

What Darwin considered the moral-engine of positive human thriving may be under threat. Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become normalized without much fanfare, such as the common use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms, the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby is spoiling it, the placing of infants in impersonal daycare, and so on. We recommend that scientists and citizens step back from and reexamine these common culturally accepted practices and pay attention to potential life-time effects on people. It is an ethical issue.

Link to The Decline of Children and the Moral Sense

2 Responses to “Darwin, US Children, and Morals”

  1. ch said

    Based on a vry quick glance at that UNICEF report, I think it should be dissected by anthropologists.

    I would like to see some of evidence on how valid and reliable those scales are in each country in each ses class. It would also be interesting to see that report stripped down to include only those things which have been causally shown to impact on outcomes by country (owning a dictionary!? — seriously?) and then to weight those select outcomes by their impact in each domain (e.g., eating fruit everyday vs. smoking – or even weight it by the strength of evidence for an impact). What would the results be then?

    Finally, a word on presentation: Figures that have been standardized, hmm. I’d like to see an absolute comparison with the rest of the world – not a relative snapshot of the affluent tail end of distribution. Those standardized figures give the specious appearance of massive (and by implication, important) differences.

    How much confidence should have in this report? What are the take home messages? And, on what evidence do we accept those messages?

  2. drHoward said

    I must question the use of the word “Morals” in the title. Morals are quite vague and tend to elict emotional reactions in people>>>gay people are immoral vs it is immoral to discriminate against gays. On the other hand a provocative title leads more people to read it and more people to comment on it. However many of those have preconceived ideas and are reading the article to further ingrain those points of views. So the question I ask should science writers and researchers use provocative titles and terms? Anthropologists like to look for the genes or bones of the first “Eve”. It is helpful for a evolutionary anthropologist to use a Judeo-Christian figure in describing scientific data? Should physicists look for the “God particle”? I see a real dilemma between marketing your data and idea vs presenting pure empirical evidence.

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