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In the first experiment, the scientists found that when the researcher was seen to be trying to get the fruit, the child more often than not picked up the fruit and gave it back to the researcher. However, in the control group, only 4% of children did so.
Surprisingly, even with the higher cost of generosity in the second experiment, about 37% of the test group children offered the fruit to the researcher, but none in the control group. True, the children in the test group looked at the fruit with an apparent desire to eat it, but then they gave it back.
Co-researcher Andrew Metzoff says, “We think this captures a kind of baby-sized version of altruistic helping."
Interestingly, the rate at which infants showed this helpfulness remained unchanged from the first time to the latest time the experiment was done, even when the same set of children was used. This shows, the scientists think, that children did not need to learn altruism during the study. Instead, they were ready to help people unknown to them, and from outside their immediate family, not once but multiple times, and without being urged or asked.
Some children were especially likely to do this, however. This included those with siblings and those from certain cultures. This could show that while children do have an inborn tendency to help those in need, this can be trained into a higher level of expression by their environmental stimuli as well. Older research has shown that adults with certain cultural environments in which interdependent living is encouraged do better at helping. Interdependence means placing priority on the level of connectedness with others.
And interestingly, an earlier study in 2014 shows that even a brief but pleasant relationship such as few minutes of playing ball while talking with a child primes the child to perform helpful acts towards the other person. The same helpfulness is present but at a much lower level, from a half to a third, of that seen in the first setting. The results were interpreted as indicating the possibility that playing with a child builds a sense of trust in the other person within the child. This in turn makes it easier for the child to learn that person’s culture, developing better behavioral and social patterns. Conclusion
Barragan observes: “We think certain family and social experiences make a difference, and continued research would be desirable to more fully understand what maximizes the expression of altruism in young children. If we can discover how to promote altruism our kids, this could move us toward a more caring society.” Journal reference:
Barragan, R.C., Brooks, R. & Meltzoff, A.N. Altruistic food sharing behavior by human infants after a hunger manipulation. Sci Rep 10, 1785 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-58645-9
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