Could Childlike Adults Make Others Act More Ethically?

I think it depends on what we mean when we talk about “childlike” people. If we are referring to people who have childlike features, such as large eyes, a high forehead, small chin, or even if we are referring to people who are mentally challenged or have the cognitive capacity of a child, it is possible that looking at them evokes thoughts related to children and moral purity. Our research suggests that thoughts of moral purity, in turn, nonconsciously lead people to behave ethically. For example, recollect the movie, I am Sam. Sam Dawson has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old and is very childlike in his behavior. It is in the course of interacting with him that a cold-hearted lawyer learns the true meaning of love and giving, and becomes a better person.

Sreedhari Desai is a professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a research fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and at the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Category: Q&A


One Response

  1. Roland Jones says:

    I recently encountered some who I thought was showing childlike behavioral characteristics. Unfortunately it was on a new job I started and severe enough that I thought it would be in my best interest to resign. This was due to this person taking part in my training. I was so curious it led me to search Google to get a better understanding of why some people behave in such a manor, which also led me to this website.

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