Kids' Generosity May Depend on Who's Watching: Study

WEDNESDAY Nov. 14, 2012 -- Young children are more likely to be generous when others are aware of their actions, according to a new study.

Previous research has shown that adults are more likely to act in ways that will benefit their reputation when they are being watched or when their actions are likely to be made public, compared to when they are anonymous.

Whether young children behave similarly was unknown, according to the Yale University researchers.

They gave stickers to 5-year-old children who had the option of sharing one or four of the stickers with another child of the same age. The children were more generous when they could see the recipient than when the recipient was hidden. They were also more generous when they had to give the stickers in a transparent container rather than in one where the stickers could not be seen.

These behaviors were the same no matter how many stickers the children were given to keep for themselves, according to the study published recently in the journal PLoS One.

The researchers said their findings show that children as young as 5 can make "strategic" choices about whether to be generous, depending on whether the recipient is aware of the giver's actions.

"Although the frequency with which children acted antisocially is striking, the conditions under which they chose to act generously are even more interesting and suggest that children likely use much more sophisticated prosocial strategies than we previously assumed," study author Kristin Lyn Leimgruber said in a journal news release.

"Much like the patterns of charity we see in adults, donation tendencies in children appear to be driven by the amount of information available to others about their actions -- for both adults and children, the more others know about their actions, the more likely they are to act generously," Leimgruber said.

More information

The Science of Generosity project at the University of Notre Dame has more about generosity.

Posted: November 2012


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