Religious upbringing can make kids less generous

Religious upbringing can make kids less generous
Highlights

Belying common perception, a new study has found that children from religious families are less likely to share their possessions with others than children from non-religious families.

Belying common perception, a new study has found that children from religious families are less likely to share their possessions with others than children from non-religious families.


Religious upbringing is also associated with more punitive tendencies in response to anti-social behaviour, the findings showed.

"Our findings contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others," said lead researcher Jean Decety, professor at the University of Chicago in the US.

"In our study, kids from atheist and non-religious families were, in fact, more generous,” Decety noted.

The study included 1,170 children between ages five and 12, from six countries - Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa, Turkey and the US.

For the altruism task, children participated in a version of the "Dictator Game," in which they were given 10 stickers and provided an opportunity to share them with another unseen child.

Altruism was measured by the average number of stickers shared.

For the moral sensitivity task, children watched short animations in which one character pushes or bumps another, either accidentally or purposefully.

After seeing each situation, children were asked about how mean the behaviour was and the amount of punishment the character deserved.

Parents completed questionnaires about their religious beliefs and practices and perceptions of their children's empathy and sensitivity to justice.

From the questionnaires, three large groupings were established: Christian, Muslim and not religious.

The researchers found that 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.

Children from religious households favoured stronger punishments for anti-social behaviour and judged such behaviour more harshly than non-religious children.

"Together, these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children's altruism," Decety said.

The study appeared in the journal Current Biology.
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