To the best of my knowledge, the mother of six week old twins took the video below, documenting empathy, without the help of Photoshop or any other video-altering aid. I cannot imagine it as being staged. Six weeks old babies simply would not tolerate being tinkered with in such a manner, even to please the one who provides their care. I found the video remarkable because, at an age in which learning is mostly about how to recognize caregivers, smile as a response to something pleasing, and holding the head more steady with some consistency, one twin seems to have recognized the distress of his sister and found a way to quiet her. Was he motivated by feeling annoyed at the sounds of her crying? Or by understanding that her crying signaled discomfort? If the first, then the six week old was an ingenious problem-solver, offering up a thumb in trade for some quiet serenity. If the latter, this may be the earliest record of an empathic behavior in human babies. Take a look:
We are missing any information that might tell us more. Psychology research, however, offers a great deal of support for the idea of in innate basis to empathic – and eventually altruistic – behaviors like that displayed by the baby boy when he extended a thumb to his twin.
Innate temperament, the biological basis for behavior, has been observed by researchers since they noted that babies in an NYU lab in the 1950’s differed (for example). Then in the 1960’s, Sandra Scarr, the mother of behavioral genetics, documented that over half of a child’s inclination to be introverted or extroverted could be explained by one’s genes, the proverbial “nature” over “nurture” Bill Graziano, a social psychologist at Purdue University, zeroed in on that piece of temperament called “agreeableness” that comes with the package when a baby is born. He has studied it in countless contexts (a summary) Our inclination to generously reach out to other living beings – or not – can begin as soon as our genes assemble into the configuration that leads to this biological temperamental trait. While the people and experiences one encounters can powerfully foster or temper innate inclinations to help, to comfort, to soothe, to act in the interest of another rather than the self, our first impulses remain the base on which modifications are made. In other words, some people just “are that way”. And empathy nurtures attachment.
Apparently the impulse to aid a being in distress extends well beyond the world of babies and their twins. A delightful story of a retired Brazilian bricklayer who rescued an oil-soaked South American Magellanic penguin who washed up on his beach, shows how the bond formed between them has continued to nourish them both across the miles and across the years. (the full story).
As you watch the video on them together note the wordless affection that Joao Pereira de Souza and Dindim, the penguin, have for one another. From the empathic impulses of a man towards a creature needing care, a full truth, commitment and affection between them has blossomed, even showing Dindim’s jealousy, so characteristic of romantic love, as the penguin expresses his affection. Attachment. No words, just caring: Love is Real.
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