If you were raised in a religious home, you probably assumed all those Saturdays you spent at the church/temple/mosque were making you a better person, which was at least a little solace given that the rest of your friends were likely watching cartoons. Unfortunately, it might be the opposite — new research suggests religious kids develop a sense of entitlement that leads them to be less altruistic than their secular peers.
The study, co-authored by 7 researchers from 6 countries and published last week in the journal Current Biology, looked at 1,151 children between the ages of 5 and 12 from the United States, Canada, South Africa, Turkey, Jordan, and China. After being asked about their religion, 3 large groups were established, Christian, Muslim and not religious. In one experiment, children were then asked to play the classic “dictator game” where a subject is responsible for choosing how to split something of value (in this case, stickers) between himself/herself and another unseen participant. This test, which is designed to test altruism, lead to findings that “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the 2 major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households,” according to the authors. The more time kids spent following religious practices, the more they “exhibit the greatest negative relations.”
“Children from households identifying as either of the 2 major world religions were less altruistic than children from non-religious households.”
The parents get implicated, too — researchers found that, despite a clear indication that kids in atheist or non-religious families were more likely to share, the parents of religious kids told researchers their children were more caring and moral than non-religious kids. The researchers hint at the fact that “moral licensing” might be at play: A phenomenon that has shown people who already believe they have high moral standards don’t feel the need to prove them.
One thing the study failed to illuminate, however, was what either Jesus or Muhammad had to say about stickers .