A study published today in Current Biology has some bad news for religious parents: bringing children up in faith-filled homes could make them more selfish.
The research, led by University of Chicago scientist Jean Decety focused on the behaviors of 1,170 international kids during an experiment designed to measure altruism. 510 came from Muslim households, and 280 from Christian ones. 323 came from non-religious, and a handful of other came from agnostic or "other" homes. The remaining participants came from Jewish (29), Buddhist (18) and Hindu (5) households.
The Economist explains that participating children were told to choose ten stickers out of 30 to play with. After the children made their selections, they were informed that not every child in school would be offered stickers, but that the child in question could opt to share their own stickers.
The results of the experiment showed that Muslim and Christian children were less willing to give away their stickers. The Economist explains the results:
The children of non-believers were significantly more generous than those of believers. They gave away an average of 4.1 stickers. Children from a religious background gave away 3.3. And a further analysis of the two largest religious groups (Jews, Buddhists and Hindus were excluded because of their small numbers in the sample), showed no statistical difference between them. Muslim children gave away 3.2 stickers on average, while Christian children gave away 3.3.
Researchers also found an inverse relationship between observance level and generosity — children from more religious homes were found to be more selfish than their less religious counterparts.
And, the authors write, parents have the equation all wrong. "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." Better do some extra lessons on the golden rule, parents.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.