Thursday, November 5, 2015

Religious children less altruistic

A new study has come out with the surprising result that children from religious upbringings are less altruistic than children with none, and the more "serious" the upbringing the less generous the child.
The new research, done with children in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa, and the United States), included 510 Muslim, 280 Christian, and 323 nonreligious children. The study, the first to take such a large-scale look at how religion and moral behavior intersect in children from across the globe, focused on one facet of moral behavior: altruism, or the willingness to give someone else a benefit that also comes with a personal cost.... 
[E]ach child was told they could put some of their 10 stickers in an envelope to be shared with other kids, who were described as being from the same school and ethnic group. The scientists used the number of stickers left in the envelope as a measure of altruism.

The children from nonreligious households left 4.1 stickers on average, a statistically significant difference from Christian children (3.3) and Muslim ones (3.2). Also, the more religious the household, based on a survey of parents, the less altruistic the child. ..... In older children, the split was most stark, with religious youth increasingly unlikely to share.
There are a couple of theories of why this might be the case
[T]he pattern of religious children being less generous may be tied to a phenomenon called “moral licensing.” That’s when a person feels permitted—even unconsciously—to do something wrong, because they see themselves as a morally correct person.
We see a lot of that in the do-as-I-say hypocrisy of many ostensibly devout people.    Another take:
 [T]he results are connected to the importance many religions place on an external authority and threats of divine punishment. Whereas children in religious households learn to act out of obedience to a watchful higher power, children raised in secular homes could be taught to follow moral rules just because it’s “the right thing to do,” he says. Then, “when no one is watching, the kids from nonreligious families behave better.”
Again, a form of hypocrisy.

Interestingly, data from  other studies suggests that there is no difference in the altruism of adults.


JCF said...

"The new research, done with children in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa, and the United States)... 280 Christian"

Maybe it would be relevant to ask what kinds of "Christian" religious upbringings these children are receiving.

Kevin K said...

I think that a lot of factors are being left out. However, children tend to be much more literal than adults in following teachings. I'm not sure how the children are evidencing hypocrisy in their choices regarding stickers. What is really interesting is that there is apparently no measurable difference in the adults' behavior.

Liturgy said...

People clearly struggle to understand how statistics work.
This helps:



IT said...

I can't reach your site, Bosco. "Database Error" on multiple browsers.

Marshall Scott said...

Thanks, Bosco. I did reach your post (had to copy and paste in a new browser window, but worked smoothly), especially because when I have a moment (it does happen now and then) I also have the link to the article itself. That gives me the chance to check.

IT said...

It worked today I agree that correlation is not causality.

However, if everything else is controlled, it is not an unreasonable hypothesis for the investigators to state that religion is the reason for the difference. One can never prove an hypothesis, of course. One can only disprove it. So they may not have proven that religious upbringing is to blame. But the correlation means that it could be.

Kevin K said...

Of course one possibility is that non religious children don't like stickers very much. :)