Infants as young as six months have the ability to show empathy for a bullied victim, according to a study conducted by Ben Gurion University (BGU), Israel and published in the British Journal of Psychology (July). Through two experiments BGU researchers debunked the theory that infants develop capability to empathise only after they complete one year. In the first experiment, infants aged five-nine months were shown a video where two characters — a square and circular figure — meet each other on top of a hill peacefully and come down in happy companionship, instigating positive or no reactions from the infants. However, in the second experiment, another group of infants were shown a video depicting the same two cartoon characters, yet this time the round figure hits and bullies the square figure forcing it down the hill. The reception of the infants to this involved much crying and aggressive movements.
“The findings indicate that even during an infant’s first year, she is already sensitive to others’ feelings and is able to identify figures who ‘deserve’ empathy and who do not,” says Dr. Florina Uzefovsky, head of the BGU Bio-Empathy Lab.