Religious children more punitive, less likely to display altruism

In The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children's Altruism Across the World published this week in Current Biology, academic researchers from the US, Canada, Qatar, Jordan, South Africa, Turkey and China report on a study of about 1,200 children from around the world in which a "robust" correlation between religious upbringing in either Christianity or Islam and a lack of altruism was demonstrated.

The researchers present their findings as a rebuttal to the widespread belief that religion is necessary or at least important in formulating a moral framework for behavior. They tested the children in an experiment in which they were told that there were free stickers to be had, but not enough to go around the whole school. The children from Christian and Muslim backgrounds were less likely to share and were more "punitive"; while children from non-religious upringing were "more empathetic and more sensitive to the plight of others."

The findings "robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households".

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, "exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations".

The study also found that "religiosity affects children's punitive tendencies". Children from religious households "frequently appear to be more judgmental of others' actions", it said.

Muslim children judged "interpersonal harm as more mean" than children from Christian families, with non-religious children the least judgmental. Muslim children demanded harsher punishment than those from Christian or non-religious homes.

At the same time, the report said that religious parents were more likely than others to consider their children to be "more empathetic and more sensitive to the plight of others".

Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds [Harriet Sherwood/The Guardian]

(Image: Marie Ellenrieder Jesus von Kindern umgeben 2, public domain)