Babies are pint-sized moral philosophers? It may not be such a silly question. In her senior project, Karli Oxford-Jordan ’17, equipped with puppet shows and parent questionnaires, was determined to explore morality in babies as young as four months.
“I’m looked at how babies’ personalities and their family environment contribute to their understanding of right and wrong,” says Oxford-Jordan, who examined whether family variables in conflict resolution and infant temperament type predict a child’s preference for a helpful or a harmful puppet.
Oxford-Jordan began working with puppets as a research tool during a summer internship at the Infant Cognition Lab at the University of Illinois, where she tracked the eye movements of infants during puppet plays and acted in the puppet plays.
“New research shows that from four months old infants are surprised by amoral situations because of how they believe individuals should act toward others,” she says. “Specifically, the (summer) research focused on fairness, harm avoidance, reciprocity and authority. Our ability to grow and learn starts at a very young age.”
Oxford-Jordan’s goal is to share what she learns with the purpose of improving lives. In her mind, research alone isn’t enough.
“It’s about sharing knowledge and helping others,” she says. “What is data without the meaningful application of data? That’s a gap I’m trying to bridge.”
She’s also especially interested in improving the lives of infants and young children.
“Children are constantly changing,” she says. “When we are in our last days of life we are changing as well, but there’s not as much space for intervention. In a sense, there’s not a lot we can do. Through data and knowledge sharing, we can create a program for infants and children so that they don’t go off on a non-normative and potentially negative path.
“I know what I’m doing can help children. It can mitigate the effects of developing in such a way that becomes destructive to their quality of life.”
Oxford-Jordan hopes to work at a university research lab before applying to graduate school.
“In the future, I would like to have my own lab and hire undergraduates to help me do research. I’m also thinking about working at a think tank and taking the data we collect and using it to inform better treatment.
“I aspire to be the person doing the hard work in the background. I want to be the person doing the work to get the intervention in the right place and to have it applied in meaningful ways.”
Karli Oxford-Jordan 2017
Hometown: Santa Monica, Calif.
Major at Earlham: Psychology