Religious upbringing linked to less altruism, study of children suggests

Nov 9, 2015

Source: University of Chicago

Many families believe religion plays an essential role in childhood moral development. But children of religious parents may not be as altruistic as those parents think, according to a new international study from the University of Chicago published Nov. 5 inCurrent Biology.

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 — a measure of their altruism — and their inclination to judge and punish others for bad behavior.

Children from religious families were less likely to share with others than were children from non-religious families. A religious upbringing also was associated with more punitive tendencies in response to 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 and the College and director of the University of Chicago Child NeuroSuite.


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12 comments on “Religious upbringing linked to less altruism, study of children suggests

  • I suspect that when children are indoctrinated to believe that an invisible sky pixie provides for all ones needs there is less motivation to think that humans might also need to help others. If at every mealtime you’re forced to thank god for the food he’s just provided why bother donating to charities for starving Africans? God will presumably feed them too if they get really hungry and if he doesn’t then it must be their own fault for doing something that annoyed him.

    It must also be fairly easy to ignore the plight of non christians when your little black book of bullshit says you must have no other god than me.



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  • The trouble is that the study misses the point. Religion is not about altruistic behaviour, it’s about obeying the behavioural codes and commands of a god who is frequently cruel, capricious, angry, violent, irrational and sectarian. A god who above all, at least in Christianity and Islam, is obsessed with the sexual behaviour of his female children; he seems to cut the fellas a bit more slack in these matters.

    He endorses war as a method of conversion, so we are told. He also hedges his bets in military matters, allowing both sides to claim his patronage, and spurring them on to even more unspeakable brutality. Some of his agents do go in for genuinely altruistic, self sacrificing charitable kindness, believing that they are doing his work, and manys a family or homeless person in this country would be colder and hungrier without their help, commitment and organisation.

    But, it always amazes me that these wonderful people do not see the true nature of the monster they are serving. They claim that evil is brought to the world by Satan, and disseminated by those he has deceived – being almighty, just and merciful you’d think that god would be able to sort out that problem in short order.

    All in all, with a role model like that, it’s little surprise that the majority of his disciples should turn out to be such an unpleasant lot.



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  • Arkrid Sandwich
    Nov 10, 2015 at 8:01 am

    If at every mealtime you’re forced to thank god for the food he’s just provided why bother donating to charities for starving Africans?

    Indeed! Why bother asking where the food comes from, who grows it, and if they are being kept in poverty and ripped off by multinational corporations, or being paid a fair price for their work?!

    http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/products.htm
    One in three bananas bought in the UK is Fairtrade and it makes a huge difference to thousands of farmers, workers and their families.

    Buying Fairtrade chocolate makes a huge difference to the lives of cocoa farmers and their families around the world.

    Choosing Fairtrade coffee means helping coffee farmers around the world to get a fair deal.

    British consumers and companies choosing Fairtrade sugar sent more than £5million in Fairtrade premium back to sugar cane smallholders last year.



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  • God says you are special. Giving thanks to god for what you have is gratitude for being chosen for these blessings, which means that others are not chosen for them.

    All you have to do is believe, and you will go to heaven – which will be denied to those who are not chosen. Why share? What these people get is not up to you, in the end.

    The important thing is to be ‘blessed’.

    Of course there are still religious people who share, but it doesn’t surprise me that this twisted ‘logic’ leads to the statistically significant results in this study.



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  • prettygoodformonkeys

    All you have to do is believe, and you will go to heaven – Lutheran

    which will be denied to those who are not chosen – Calvinist

    More mainsteam Christians think that good works are also important,

    Corinthians 1:13, 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
    3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

    The trouble is that yer good ole southern boys and gals, only like the violent, mean bits of the bible.



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  • Sorry Mods and prettygoodformonkeys I hit the wrong, very faded, button and wiped out prettygoodformonkeys’ comment, to which i replied with superb biblical exegesis.



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  • Here is what I think. It is also noted that richer chlidren are more altruistic. Maybe they can “afford” to be altruistic. What if religion “takes from you somehow”, and a sudden exposure to have for yourself is then responded to more by a more selfish impulse?



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  • Alien
    Nov 11, 2015 at 9:11 am

    It might be worth checking out this though

    While it does pick out some flaws in the methodology, the ending conclusion is interesting, as well as seeming to conflict in part with the title of the piece!

    @your link – However, I think this study does at least provide some evidence that atheist kids are not less altruistic than religious kids. With so many believers telling atheists how evil they are, that in itself is a small win.



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  • eejit
    Nov 10, 2015 at 8:50 am

    The trouble is that the study misses the point. Religion is not about altruistic behaviour, it’s about obeying the behavioural codes and commands of a god who is frequently cruel, capricious, angry, violent, irrational and sectarian.

    True, but that is not the image the religious preach, like hold about themselves, or like to convey.

    news.uchicago.edu/article/2015/11/05/religious-upbringing-associated-less-altruism-study-finds

    Nov 5, 2015 … Children from religious families were less likely to share with others … These results support previous studies of adults, which have found religiousness is linked … whether religion is vital for moral development

    This would suggest that despite shortcomings of this particular study, its findings are in line with other research on this subject.

    The study was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

    Templeton is a religious foundation which offers grants to projects which it hopes will use science to support god-belief, and the “superiority of religious views”!
    Methodology may be poor in this study, as some wish-thinking preconceptions are inherent in this system of offering grants, but of course honest science cannot be fooled!



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