Infants prefer a nasty moose if it punishes an unhelpful elephant
Ed Yong Discover Magazine, 28 November 2011 (hat tip MR)
If you saw someone punching a stranger in the street, you might think poorly of them. But if you found out that the stranger had slept with the assailant’s partner, had kicked a kitten, or was Justin Bieber, you might think differently about the situation. You might even applaud the punch-thrower.
When we make moral judgments, we do so subtly and selectively. We recognise that explicitly antisocial acts can seem appropriate in the right circumstances. We know that the enemy of our enemy can be our friend. Now, Kiley Hamlin from the University of British Columbia has shown that this capacity for finer social appraisals dates back to infancy – we develop it somewhere between our fifth and eighth months of life.
There are a number of entertaining non-verbal videos - about as sophisticated as your typical 1980s sitcom - that clarify the moose references, and illustrate the experimental methods.
Of course my little one was arguing with me over the merits of whether being out of the street meant standing on the curb (which he called a sidewalk) or actually being up on the lawn at 13 months. There is some lawyering in the family blood lines.