It looks like people of all ages can feel their Spidey senses tingling: Researchers in Japan recently concluded that infants can recognize justice by 6 months of age. What's more, the Kyoto-based team determined through a series of experiments featuring babies that they actually showed a preference for characters who were in the act of helping others. And, for those who studied this phenomenon, this showed more than that many of the littlest among us have a budding sense of morality. It means, they hypothesized, that humans are born to exalt heroes — like the enduring comic book mega-movie franchise idol that is Spider Man himself.
In order to reach this conclusion, the team — led by Masako Myowa of Kyoto University — presented these preverbal infants with two illustrations of geometric characters, according to Science Magazine. In both, one of the characters chased and bumped into another. Then, the narratives diverged: A third character intervened in one illustration; another third party character simply left the scene in another.
And babies were totally onto the dynamic here, and acted accordingly: They were more likely to choose a real-life replica of the character who has helped than the character who had fled when presented with the option later.
"Six-month-old infants are still in an early developmental stage, and most will not yet be able to talk," contributor David Butler said of the results. "Nevertheless they can already understand the power dynamics between these different characters, suggesting that recognizing heroism is perhaps an innate ability."
But recognizing heroism and emulating it may be two distinct outcomes. Recent research out of Brigham Young University concluded, after one year of analyzing the behaviors of preschoolers who liked superheroes, that these children were no more likely to display behaviors reminiscent of the proverbial "good guys." In fact, while these kids didn't necessarily defend classmates who were being bullied any more than their peers did, they were more likely to be more aggressive, both socially and physically.
That same study found that children that age were not yet able to grasp the characters' motivations for the kicking, punching, shooting, and even killing that are hallmarks of superhero narratives. Instead, they simply imitated the violent behaviors.
Still, as Children’s Institute for Learning and Development cofounder Pei-San Brown told Earlychildhood NEWS, superhero play among children helps them to develop physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally and "involves much negotiation between children." Instead of banning or discouraging this type of play, which can often fit into the "rough and tumble" variety, parents should monitor it to stop instances of true aggression and to explain concepts such as that it's heroic to save a life, not to take one, the outlet reported.
But long before they're old enough to soar around like Wonder Woman or take on crime like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, babies appear to already know this on some level. At least we all have a scientific excuse for seeing the next DC or Marvel flick for a fourth time now. Right?