The Science of Happiness. Register Today
   
 

Kind Kids

By Jason Marsh | August 18, 2010 | 1 comment

Getting children to be helpful might be easier than we think.

Every parent wants to raise a kind, helpful child. But how?

A recent study suggests it might be easier than we think. In fact, according to the study’s authors, humans have a strong predisposition toward altruism, evident from the time they’re infants. All adults need to do is give kids some subtle, gentle encouragement, and they’ll be on their way.

Bradley Mason

In the study, conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, an experimenter showed 60 18-month-old kids one of four different sets of photos (see below). In the foreground of all the photos was a familiar household object, like a red tea kettle. But the background was different in each of the four sets.

In one of the sets, the background of every photo had two dolls facing each other; another set showed one of those dolls standing alone in the background; a third set replaced the dolls with two stacks of colorful blocks; and the final set had the two dolls standing back-to-back.

After the children viewed all the photos in their set, the experimenter left the room and in walked another experimenter who “accidentally” dropped a bundle of sticks. The researchers observed how many of the kids in each of the four conditions spontaneously tried to help pick up the sticks.

The researchers wanted to see whether children would be more likely to help after seeing the photos with the dolls facing each other in the background. They note that altruistic behavior often seems to be stimulated by a sense of affiliation and commitment to a larger group, and they hypothesized that conveying this sense of affiliation between people, even very subtly, would be enough to boost the frequency of kind, helpful—or “pro-social”—behavior.

An example of the four types of photos the researchers used. An example of the four types of photos the researchers used.

The children were equally likely to help if they’d seen photos with the single doll, the back-to-back dolls, or the blocks in the background. But amazingly, after seeing photos in which the background dolls were facing each other, they were three times more likely to help.

Because the kids were more likely to help when the dolls were facing each other but not when they were back-to-back, the researchers conclude that it was the subtle hint of affiliation that stimulated the acts of altruism, not the mere presence of two dolls.

“Infants made the subconscious connection between affiliation and helping behavior,” they write, adding that “the connections between affiliation to the group and pro-social behavior are thus so fundamental that, even in infancy, a mere hint of affiliation is sufficient to increase helping.”

The results, published in Psychological Science, offer grounds for optimism to parents, educators, and anyone else hoping to encourage kids to share and be kind—and perhaps offer a bit more help around the house.

“We have shown the ease with which it is possible to dramatically increase pro-social behavior in infants,” write the researchers. “Our data suggest that surprisingly subtle changes to our social environment may promote pro-social behavior in our children.”

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 
About The Author

Jason Marsh is the editor in chief of Greater Good.

  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 

My deep consideration is that we need to educate our kids technically.
I.e. my daughter is only 4 years old but she can use computer, yesterday she managed to uninstall itunes mac, hahaha

Angelica | 6:50 am, September 28, 2010 | Link

 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  • Just One Thing: Be at Peace with the Pain of Others

    September 26, 2014

    We can feel threatened by another person's stress, says Rick Hanson. So how do you stay open, caring, and brave enough to help them?

  • When Does Power Hurt Romance?

    October 2, 2014

    Four new studies reveal how having power affects your willingness to walk in your partner's shoes.

  • What is a Good Life?

    October 1, 2014

    A new book explores what we know and don’t yet know about human nature and the role of the environment in shaping our moral character.

  

Greater Good Events

Self-Compassion & the Cultivation of Happiness with Kristin Neff
International House, UC Berkeley campus
November 7, 2014


Self-Compassion & the Cultivation of Happiness with Kristin Neff

This day-long seminar led by self-compassion pioneer Kristin Neff, will offer strategies for cultivating self-compassion, boosting happiness, and reducing stress in yourself and others.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

29 Gifts By Cami Walker Walker’s life is in a downward spiral until she takes unusual advice from a friend: to give away 29 gifts in 29 days.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.

Sponsors

The Quality of Life Foundation logo Special thanks to

The Quality of Life Foundation for its support of the Greater Good Science Center

 
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement