A team of developmental psychologists led by Prof. Jean Decety examined the perceptions and behavior of children in six countries.  The study assessed the children's tendency to share stickers they had been given  - a measure of altruism - and their inclination to judge others for bad behavior as well as punish bad behavior.

Children from religious families were less likely to share with others than children from non-religious families.  A religious upbringing also was associated with stronger recognition of anti-social behavior and with more punitive tendencies for anti-social behavior.

The results were at odds with the perceptions of religious parents, who were more likely than non-religious parents to report that their children had a high degree of empathy and sensitivity to the plight of others.

"Our findings contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others.  In our study, kids from atheist and non-religious families were, in fact, more generous," said Decety, the Irving B. Harris Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the College.

The study included 1,170 children between the ages of 5 and 12 from six countries - Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States.

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Do you have an opinion on this or are you simply reporting a news item. I saw this, but I was unsurprised. The absence of an ultimate authority figure reflects itself in the personal responsibility of the individual. No surprise there, really.

While I agree that I'm not surprised...I'm curious if this is the case in countries where non-belief is state policy (China, Vietnam, North Korea and earlier in the times of the soviet union).

It seems like a pretty small sample even if there are over a thousand subjects...and it seems like they are drawing hasty conclusions at a point where further investigation is rather

A far more interesting test would be to investigate altruism in children and religious adults from religious parents towards those of their community and those outside of their community. I'd be curious to see if the religious are less likely to share with those of other faiths and the non-religious...rather than the non-religious with those of any faith.

I'm curious what the socioeconomic background of the families of the study was. THAT would tell me a lot as to whether it was a properly done study.

At least from the seems they've rigorously accounted for other variables...but I can't understand the full article...its language is really above me.

this part is interesting. I don't entirely understand "judge interpersonal harm as mean".

Results from a univariate analysis of covariance (ANCOVA), with judgments of meanness of harmful actions as the dependent variable, religious identification as the independent variable, and age, SES, and country of origin (to account for known influences) as the covariates, revealed a significant main effect of religious identification on meanness rating (F(2, 767) = 6.521, p = 0.002, η2 = 0.017; Figure 3). Post hoc Bonferroni-corrected paired comparisons showed that children in Muslim households judged interpersonal harm as more mean than children from Christian (p < 0.005) and non-religious (p < 0.001) households, and children from Christian households judged interpersonal harm as more mean than children from non-religious households (p < 0.01). Moreover, children from religious households also differ in their ratings of deserved punishment for interpersonal harm (F(2, 847) = 5.80, p < 0.01, η2 = 0.014); this was qualified by significantly harsher ratings of punishment by children from Muslim households than children from non-religious households (p < 0.01). There were no significant differences between children from Christian households and non-religious households.

Also of was funded by the Templeton Foundation...which is very interesting as part of their mission is to bridge the barrier between religion and secular society (being more religious than non-religious).

I tried to see if the journal is legit...and it seems so.

Also of was funded by the Templeton Foundation... bridge the barrier between religion and secular society

Making someone aware of their shortcomings is the first step to changing them. It makes sense that if their goal is truly to unite the religious and secular parts of society, they would be interested in finding the truth of the matter and advising people based on that.

Unfortunately...if you look at their history, who they fund, who they give awards'll find that their bias is clearly scewed towards the religious...and their funding towards science in the end corrupts research by attempting to ad a "spiritual" slant to it...if the teams of scientists ever hope to get the kind of extremely generous finding they can offer. As much as they try to unite the two...the results of their research rarely seems to work out and their awards tend to go to religious folk writing very unscientific work at times extremely critical of secularists and atheists. Just note the research results that they praise and advertise (the ones that make science and religion seem compatible) and the ones they try to bury unsuccessfully (that there is absolutely no link between prayer and greater healing).


It is interesting that Professor Decety says it is “common sense” to assume religious households are more altruistic than non-religious ones.

I have known many religious people that have done many “good works” and who do so selflessly. I would say this is true of nearly all of the nuns and priests (mainly Catholic) I have known who work for charities in less developed countries. I would say the same of those who work for local homeless or rehab organisations. I sometimes work alongside them and they never seem to mention their faith or God and are non-judgemental of others irrespective of their beliefs. These people have had experiences that have given them a certain wisdom and appreciation of life that has allowed their natural sense of empathy for humanity to flourish. It has made them who they are despite (or in spite) of any religious views that started them on that selfless journey.

They help others because it is the right thing to do and not because it is a “good” thing to do. A problem inherent in Christianity is that it teaches children that doing “good”  has the concept of reward attached to it. It will please an ever watchful God who will be pleased with them for doing “good” and punish them for doing “bad”. 

Empathy is based upon an understanding of the concept of right and wrong and we become more altruistic once our sense of empathy is developed and nurtured as children. I think this is undermined by insisting that every deed is either good or bad based upon some supernatural referee that is the alpha and omega of moral decision making.

That might be special knowledge to some but I think atheists would see it as common sense?

Sociology as a "science" shows the difficulty of measuring and predicting human behavior and idealisms. That's why we call it a soft science, as opposed to a very measurable, definable science like chemistry.

Sounds interesting, Dr. Bob... although I suspect you may of violated TA's rules by failing to offer a question for people to answer.

In any case, the current stereotype of christian children is that they are generally intolerant and not very nice. It seems they may of earned that stereotype.

Sorry if there was no question, @matt.  As folks know I sign on to TA mostly when traveling for conferences or reviewing NSF proposals or somesuch... in this case a particularly tedious conference with mathematicians.   The article in my news feed just caught my attention and I thought folks here might be interested, so I suppose my question was something along the lines of "This is interesting, what do you think?"

If I get a chance later on today or tomorrow I'll try to post my own thoughts.  Loosely speaking I'd say my thoughts are (1) all data is interesting and should be looked at thoughtfully, and (2) one should nevertheless be appropriately alert and skeptical, particularly of any "science" that catches the fancy of the popular press.


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