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The researchers examined 129 six to nine year olds for this study. The results were published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology”. The primary school children first had to take a standardized intelligence test to determine their IQ. Then they were shown picture stories in which the main characters break moral rules, for example not sharing with a needy child, stealing candy from their peers, hiding their belongings or teasing someone.
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Then the children were asked about it. You should not only evaluate the acts in general, but also put yourself in the shoes of the victim and the perpetrator. From this, indicators for moral perception were derived and compared with the IQ values. The result: “We could not determine any influence of intelligence on the moral thinking of children, that is, on their moral judgments and feelings,” says Hanna Beißert, the responsible scientist.
It will certainly be the case that intelligent children learn to play football a little faster than less intelligent children. On the other hand, intelligence will not play a major role in this. Rather, the time spent on the pitch will be decisive. You will also find that there are some children who are simply better at learning football, regardless of their intelligence. One speaks here of motor skills or of ‘feeling for the ball’, which of course you need when playing football.
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Are there such skills in learning morals?
Prof. Spitzer: “Of course! People need compassion for other people, then they can put themselves in their place and look at life through the other person’s glasses, as it were. This ability is not equally well developed in every person and accordingly one will recognize moral relationships better and the other worse. A person’s compassion either has nothing to do with their intelligence and there may even be a negative connection: As you know, mathematically gifted people tend to be less empathetic than those with normal giftedness. In addition, all talent is of no use if you do not develop the relevant skill through training. “
How is the learning of morals promoted?
Prof. Spitzer: “Just like a child who spends a lot of time on the football field, will be able to play football well afterwards, a child who is with other children a lot and has positive experiences of community with these children will have a high degree of moral sensitivity. This feeling will also be reflected in moral behavior. In the case of five to eight-year-old children, it was possible to show that they recognize better and better situations in which fairness or justice is important, and accordingly act more and more fairly and more justly.
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Important: It doesn’t depend on many admonitions to do the right thing. It is more important that the children have enough experiences in which they or others have done the right thing and the whole thing has then led to a happy togetherness. It is these experiences that turn children into ‘moral subjects’, that is, also into full citizens of our state
Is there an innate ability to act morally?
Prof. Spitzer: “Moral action is not innate, but learned. The human brain has the ability to make moral judgments, in principle just as it has the ability to speak, for example. As everyone knows, language has to be learned first. And that’s exactly how it is with morality: just as there are around 6,500 languages, there are also very many different moral codes, i.e. written moral values and norms that people can learn in childhood and adolescence, depending on the society into which they were born.”
How is morality learned?
Prof. Spitzer: “This learning happens in the same way as speaking: I don’t learn to speak by cramming vocabulary or learning grammatical rules by heart. I learn to speak through the fact that people talk to me and, above all, act with me by speaking: You bake a cake together, work on a puzzle together or talk about plants and animals on a walk. This is how children learn to speak.
But that’s also how they learn morals. This means that they do not learn the Ten Commandments or the Basic Law by heart and then behave correctly. Rather, we live together all the time, observe how others behave, notice how we get along with each other and how not, and thereby learn in general how to behave socially. But not by learning these general rules by heart. Like the rules of grammar, these rules of dealing with one another are produced by the brain by processing many individual events. Conclusion: Just as we learn the language from individual examples, we learn moral behavior from individual examples. Our brain does the rest and makes its own rules from the examples. “