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Arts & Culture

Are We Born Moral?

Chion Wolf
Shanell Smith is an ordained minister and assistant professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Hartford Seminary
Credit KellyNPhillong / Creative Commons
Creative Commons
Are babies born with a clean slate, or with a sense of morality?

In 1965, the Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, spread stamped and addressed but un-mailed letters around public locations in New Haven. Most of the letters were picked up and mailed by strangers who could not possibly derive any material reward for doing the right thing. The strangers also lived out their values based on the address. Letters that were going to the Friends of the Nazi Party were mailed less reliably than letters going to a neutral recipient.
So, this is a nice story about our inherent altruism, our civic-mindedness, but Millgram is much more famous for his experiments in which, with a little nudging from an apparent authority figure, people were willing to inflict what appeared to be horrible acts of physical punishment on strangers.
Today, Paul Bloom, also a Yale psychologist talks about which experiment tells the real story of humans.
You can leave your comments below, email us at colin@wnpr.org, or tweet us @wnprcolin.


  • Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Regan Professor of Psychology at Yale University and the author of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil.
  • Shanell Smith is an ordained minister and Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Hartford Seminary. 


Colin McEnroe is a radio host, newspaper columnist, magazine writer, author, playwright, lecturer, moderator, college instructor and occasional singer.
Chion Wolf is the host of the radio show and podcast 'Audacious' on Connecticut Public.
Betsy started as an intern at WNPR in 2011 after earning a Master's Degree in American and Museum Studies from Trinity College. She served as the Senior Producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show' for several years before stepping down in 2021 and returning to her previous career as a registered nurse. She still produces shows with Colin and the team when her schedule allows.

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