In the News: Negative Correlation between Religiosity and Altruism in Children

A recently published study indicates that children of religious parents are not more altruistic then children of atheists. Indeed, they are apparently less so.

The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World, Jean Decety et al., Current Biology, 2015-11-16

[…] 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.

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NOTE: Authors who refer to “religious children” or “atheist children” are committing a serious error which is unfortunately very common. They are labeling children with the religion or irreligion of their parents. Children should never be so labelled because they have not yet reached the age necessary to decide for themselves.

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