*Religious Children Share Less and Judge More
A group of seven developmental psychologists from around the world recently revealed that religious children are less altruistic than nonreligious children in Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States.
Published in Current Biology, the study was led by Jean Decety, distinguished professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago and the director of the university’s Child Neurosuite. “Our findings contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others,” Decety said. “In our study, kids of atheist and nonreligious families were, in fact, more generous.”
The team of psychologists used the “Dictator Game” as a tool to examine a diverse, cross-cultural sample of 1,174 children ages 5 through 12 that included 280 Christians, 510 Muslims, 323 nonreligious, 29 Jews, 18 Buddhists, 5 Hindus, 3 agnostics, and 6 others. The game basically tests a person’s level of self-interest by revealing how individuals might share resources with others.
In the game, each child was asked to choose 10 favorites from a set of 30 stickers, and told the 10 stickers were theirs to keep. The child was then told that the experimenter did not have the time to play this game with all of the children in the school, so not every child would receive stickers. Finally, each child was given two envelopes and told that they could give some of the stickers to another child who would not be able to play this game by putting them in one envelope. The other envelope was for the stickers they wanted to keep. The experimenters turned around so each child could choose in private whether or not to give away stickers. Generosity was calculated as the number of stickers shared out of 10.
The results revealed that Christian children and Muslim children were equally generous, but both shared fewer stickers than the nonreligious children.
In another part of study identified as a “moral sensitivity task,” children were showed a computer simulation of a faceless person pushing or bumping into another faceless person. They were then asked about the level of meanness they witnessed and how much punishment the pusher should face.
This part of the study revealed that Muslim children judged the pushing as more mean than Christian children and nonreligious children, and the Christians judged the pushing as more mean than the nonreligious. The religious children also expected harsher punishment compared to nonreligious children.
Other results of the study—consistent with similar studies—revealed that as children grow older, they become less likely to share. In addition, “religiousness is directly related to increased intolerance for and punitive attitudes toward interpersonal offenses, including the probability of supporting harsher penalties.”
These results “challenge the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior and call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, suggesting that secularization of moral discourse does not reduce human kindness. In fact, it does just the opposite,” Decety explained.
By: George Lorenzo