CHILDREN brought up in religious homes are more selfish than friends who are brought up in non-religious households, a new study has reported.
The report “The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World”has been published by the journal Current Biology.
Academics from seven universities around the world studied the responses of almost 1200 children from countries including the United States, Canada, Turkey, and China — but not the UK. They were looking to see whether the children’s religious upbringing had an effect on their altruism. All the children were aged between five and 12, and represented all the main faiths, and those of no faith.
Researchers tested children’s altruism by giving them stickers, and then telling them that there were not enough to go round, to see if they would share with classmates.
They also tested children’s responses to seeing acts of meanness and bullying on screen, and observed that children from religious homes were in favour of harsher punishments for such actions than children from non-religious homes.
Researchers said that their findings contradicted the commonly accepted view that religion had a positive effect on moral behaviour. In fact, they said, the evidence suggested that children from non-religious backgrounds were more generous and forgiving than those with faith backgrounds, and that the older a child grew, and the longer he or she had spent in a religious home, the stronger the link with selfishness became.
The authors concluded: “Children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions — Christianity and Islam — were less altruistic than children from non-religious households. [They] contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others.”
More generally, they said, the research supported “the idea that the secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness — in fact, it will do just the opposite.”
Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, welcomed the study as going “some way to undoing the idea that religious ethics are innately superior to the secular outlook”.
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