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You know that part in the movie when the villain met a nasty (and yet so satisfying) end? Like, the civilization-destroying general in Avatar.

New research suggests that even babies would be cheering.

According to a study led by the University of British Columbia, babies as young as eight months old want a bad guy to get what's coming to him.

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Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study suggests that the babies supported negative behaviour if they felt it was deserved – and weren't keen on those who didn't punish bad-behaving individuals.

"These findings suggest that, from as early as eight months, we are watching for people who might put us in danger and prefer to see antisocial behavior regulated," said lead author and UBC psychologist Kiley Hamlin.

In the study, researchers used hand puppets to present four scenarios to 100 babies. The first puppets acted nicely or negatively toward other characters, and then other puppets were shown either giving or taking toys away from the first puppets. In choosing their favourites, the babies more often picked the puppets who punished the bad characters, rather than the ones who treated them nicely.

In another experiment, researchers asked babies who were 21 months old to give treats or take them away from either nice puppets, or means ones. The babies chose to settle the score: they took the treats from the mean puppets and gave them to the nice ones.

What do you think about these findings? Are we naturally imbued with a strong moral compass or do we just learn it very quickly?

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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