And less generous, according to a new study by scientists.
It turns out that religion does not make children kinder. At least that's what unbiased statistics say. Scientists have found that in generosity and altruism, children from religious families are inferior to their peers growing up in families of atheists. Since most of the world's religions encourage generosity and self-sacrifice in people, the researchers assumed that "children raised in religious families will show the most altruistic behavior," they wrote in a report published in 2015 in the journal Current Biology.
This assumption was tested during the study. Scientists conducted a series of experiments in which 1170 children from the USA, Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa and China took part. The age of the participants ranged from 5 to 12 years. 24% of the children were from Christian families, 43% were Muslim, 1.6% Buddhist, and 0.4% Hindu. The rest of the children were: 0.2% agnostic, 0.5% classified as "other religions" and 28% of children from non-religious backgrounds.
In the first experiment, children were shown 30 colorful stickers and asked to choose the 10 they liked the most. Then the children were told that there would not be enough stickers for all of them. Surprisingly, people from secular families shared their stickers with disadvantaged participants in the experiment much more often than their religious peers. When the researchers looked at the results, they found that Christian and Muslim children were equally reluctant to share, while non-religious children were 28% more likely to give away their stickers so that the child around them would not be upset.
An amazing pattern: the more religious the family, the less altruistic the child. And this conclusion was true for all religions. And the older the child, the less willing to share.
In the second experiment, the children were shown scenes in which people were pushed, stepped on their feet, and caused various minor harms. After that, the children were ranked according to their reactions to what they saw. Researchers led by neuroscientist Jean Decety of the University of Chicago found that Muslim children are the most intransigent towards people who have committed “misdemeanors,” and they are more likely than others to insist on severe punishment for the perpetrators. Christian children are not far behind their Muslim peers on this issue. And only children from non-religious families showed generosity more often than intransigence.
The researchers conclude that "the assumption that children from religious families are more altruistic and generous is not confirmed." In addition, "the data obtained call into question the appropriateness of religious education for moral development." At the same time, scientists have refuted the common belief that human morality and religion are inseparable. Quite the contrary: children who are not adherents of any religion turned out to be more moral.