21 November 2015

Secular Kids Are More Altruistic, Less Judgmental And Less Punitive

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.
From The Guardian via Fully Myelinated.

The underlying research is in an article published in the Journal Current Biology, which contains the following summary:
Prosocial behaviors are ubiquitous across societies. They emerge early in ontogeny and are shaped by interactions between genes and culture. Over the course of middle childhood, sharing approaches equality in distribution. Since 5.8 billion humans, representing 84% of the worldwide population, identify as religious, religion is arguably one prevalent facet of culture that influences the development and expression of prosociality. While it is generally accepted that religion contours people’s moral judgments and prosocial behavior, the relation between religiosity and morality is a contentious one. Here, we assessed altruism and third-party evaluation of scenarios depicting interpersonal harm in 1,170 children aged between 5 and 12 years in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, USA, and South Africa), the religiousness of their household, and parent-reported child empathy and sensitivity to justice. Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than non-religious parents. However, religiousness was inversely predictive of children’s altruism and positively correlated with their punitive tendencies. Together these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism, challenging the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior.
Of course, correlation is not causation and one could easily argue for all sorts of confounding alternative causes of the correlations observed in this cross-cultural global study with a modest sample size in just six countries.

Tangentially related: I am a big fan of the highly ironic and verging on wacky political theater tactics used by the Satanic Temple organization to address violations of the establishment clause by demanding that they too be included despite the poor reputation of Satanism as a religion.  They are proof of how creative commitment to cause can make a positive difference in the world.  Of course, we shouldn't forget the contributions of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the adherents of the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU) either.

1 comment:

andrew said...

A valid critique of the study is found at Salon.com which most importantly notes that the non-religious kids are predominantly Chinese, introducing a powerful confound.