The controversial claim from a new study is that children from religious backgrounds are less willing to share with others and are more judgmental when confronted with people demonstrating anti-social behavior.
The study was conducted among children from seven different countries and many backgrounds, although statistically only Christian, Muslim, and non-religious were considered large enough samples to derive results from; interestingly, the study methods don’t seem to have been adapted to different cultural contexts or conditions, with the same test being applied across age and culture.
One aspect of the study seems contradictory; a finding that all children were more generous as they grew, but that children who were exposed to religion for longer were less generous.
From the University of Chicago news blog:
Consistent with previous studies, in general the children were more likely to share as they got older. But children from households identifying as Christian and Muslim were significantly less likely than children from non-religious households to share their stickers. The negative relation between religiosity and altruism grew stronger with age; children with a longer experience of religion in the household were the least likely to share.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that parents were unlikely to see their child as lacking in generosity, even when a child was very unwilling to share. You can read more about the findings in a recent Guardian article as well.
We reported earlier this year on another study that suggested that children who sang in choir made better moral choices than children who didn’t, although one could fairly ask similar questions about the underlying assumptions made for that study as well.
Do you think you’d know if your child was selfish? What do you think could account for the disparity between the studies findings and the common sense notion that children taught the values of self-sacrifice and generosity should be more altruistic than others? Do you think this is something that has changed with time, or would the same study have the same conclusion even a century ago?