It’s safe to say that the average person isn’t evil. In general, most people root for good to triumph over evil and do their best to ensure they cause minimal harm to others in their own lives as well.
This moral sensibility is fed to us essentially from birth, often in the form of the movies, TV shows, books, and even sometimes the music we choose to consume. Everyone is brought up knowing to infinitely support the heroes amongst us — but how does that same narrative shape our approach to handling the villains?
Show No Mercy
As it turns out, it seems that our desire to adamantly punish those we perceive as evil runs just as deeply as our desire to see the good guys win, and it begins at just as early an age, too. Scientists have tested the extent to which these compulsions can be pushed and frankly, the results seem a bit sociopathic.
According to a study published in Nature Human Behavior, both chimpanzees and small human children feel not only apathy, but an avid sense of joy when witnessing antisocial behavior (in this case, depriving the children/chimps of toys or food) receive the punishment they perceive as just. They were even willing to sacrifice their own rewards for the chance to see this punishment go down.
Nature Versus Nurture
The initial purpose of the study? To determine whether or not these instincts were learned or biologically innate. While the behavior was also exemplified by chimps (indicating biology’s role), the age of the children did seem to be a substantial factor, as children younger than six did not exhibit the same tendencies.
“When misfortune befalls another, humans may feel distress, leading to a motivation to escape,” reads the study. “When such misfortune is perceived as justified, however, it may be experienced as rewarding and lead to motivation to witness the misfortune.”