Budding altruists? Children abandon food for others

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By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, February 6, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Schools may strive to teach children that sharing is affectionate, but a new study suggests that altruism begins in childhood and may be influenced by others.

It is not clear when people begin to show altruism, which may include sharing resources such as food with others in need.

"We believe it is important to study altruism because it is one of the most distinctive aspects of the human being. It is an important part of the moral fabric of society," said the study's lead author, Rodolfo Cortes Barragán. He is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

"Adults help each other when we see someone in need and do this even if there is a cost to oneself," he said in a university press release. "So we tested the roots of this in babies."

Barragán's team evaluated almost 100 young people of 19 months and discovered that even when they were hungry, many recovered a piece of fruit thrown by someone they did not know and offered it.

The children did this without encouragement, instructions or reinforcement, according to the study published online February 4 in the magazine. Scientific reports.

The children "looked longingly at the fruit and then gave it away," said Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the institute. "We believe this captures a kind of baby version of altruistic help."

The researchers also found that young children with siblings and those from certain cultures had a special chance of helping the strange adult, suggesting that others can shape altruism at this age.

The findings combine with studies of adults that show that a cultural background (such as Asian or Hispanic) that emphasizes "interdependence" among people can promote altruism, according to the researchers.

"We believe that certain family and social experiences make a difference, and ongoing research would be desirable to better understand what maximizes the expression of altruism in young children. If we can discover how to promote altruism in our children, this could lead us to a society more supportive, "said Barragan.

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SOURCE: University of Washington, press release, February 4, 2020

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