Does religion make kids less generous?

November 05, 2015

Religious parents are more likely to describe their children as empathetic and concerned about justice than are non-religious parents. But, new evidence reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on November 5 suggests that the opposite is in fact true.

In the study, children growing up in households that weren't religious were significantly more likely to share than were children growing up in religious homes. The findings support the notion that the secularization of moral discourse may serve to increase rather than decrease human kindness, the researchers say.

"Some past research had demonstrated that religious people aren't more likely to do good than their nonreligious counterparts," said Jean Decety of the University of Chicago. "Our study goes beyond that by showing that religious people are less generous, and not only adults but children too."

To examine the influence of religion on the expression of altruism, Decety and his colleagues asked more than 1,100 children between the ages of five and twelve from the US, Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa, and China to play a game in which they were asked to make decisions about how many stickers to share with an anonymous person from the same school and a similar ethnic group. Most of the children came from households that identified as Christian, Muslim, or not religious. The study also included smaller numbers of children from Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and agnostic homes.

The children became more generous with age, consistent with earlier studies. But their religious rearing environment also fundamentally shaped their altruistic tendencies, with more-religious children showing less generosity. Importantly, the researchers report, children who were the most altruistic came from atheist or non-religious families.

The data also show that religious children judged interpersonal harm as being meaner and deserving of harsher punishment than did children from non-religious households. Those findings are consistent with past research in adults showing that religiousness is directly related to increased intolerance for and punitive attitudes toward interpersonal offenses, including the probability of supporting harsh penalties.

The results might be explained in part by "moral licensing," a phenomenon in which doing something "good"--in this case practicing a religion--can leave people less concerned about the consequences of immoral behavior, the researchers say. They also come as a timely reminder that religion and morality are not one and the same.

"A common-sense notion is that religiosity has a positive association with self-control and moral behaviors," Decety said. "This view is unfortunately so deeply embedded that individuals who are not religious can be considered morally suspect. In the United States, for instance, non-religious individuals have little chance to be elected to a high political office, and those who identify as agnostic and atheist are considered to be less trustworthy and more likely to be amoral or even immoral. Thus, it is generally admitted that religion shapes people's moral judgments and prosocial behavior, but the relation between religiosity and morality is actually a contentious one, and not always positive."

Decety says he is now in the process of expanding the work to include children of ages four to eight in 14 countries--Canada, China, Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Turkey, Jordan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Norway, and Mexico.
-end-
This research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (Science of Philanthropy Initiative).

Current Biology, Decety et al.: "The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children's Altruism across the World" http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.056

Current Biology (@CurrentBiology), published by Cell Press, is a bimonthly journal that features papers across all areas of biology. Current Biology strives to foster communication across fields of biology, both by publishing important findings of general interest and through highly accessible front matter for non-specialists. For more information please visit http://www.cell.com/current-biology. To receive media alerts for this or other Cell Press journals, contact press@cell.com.

Cell Press

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.