When we were young we were told that sharing is caring – we often had to share something of ours with our siblings or schoolmates, and we didn’t really think much of it. But nowadays, children have the luxury of having one of everything – at school they each have an iPad and at home they have identical phones. Why is it that they are like this? Do we need to show our grandchildren the necessity of sharing in life? Greed is never pleasant, no less in a small child than a fully-grown adult, and we know ourselves that these things are ingrained when we are young and carry through to adulthood.
A recent study has shown that when children witness ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behaviour, their brains show an immediate response, meaning they can learn from example. But when it is put into their own hands to determine good or bad behaviour, the results weren’t as promising!
Researchers from the University of Chicago wanted to test the automatic moral evaluation in children aged 3 to 5 by monitoring their electrical brain activity when put in a situation where they have to decide what the right thing to do is. The children in the study were given 10 stickers each and were told that they were theirs but the next child who entered wouldn’t be given any stickers. They were posed with a dilemma: do they want to give their stickers to a child they don’t know? If they did, they were asked to place the stickers they wanted to share into a discreet box.
Not surprisingly for little children, most only wanted to give two or fewer stickers to the anonymous child. This shows that kids make moral judgements based on early and automatic processing and whether or not they were helping out or harming themselves by being generous and offering a sticker. The latter thought process was the deciding factor on whether they’d forgo something of theirs.
According to Professor Jean Decety of the University of Chicago, “Moral evaluation in preschool children, similar to adults, is complex and constructed from both emotion and cognition. However, we found that only differences in neural markers of the latter predict actual generosity”. This means that as kids grow up, they can show an increase in generosity, but only if it makes sense to them to do so.
This study comes at a time of year when we are promoting generosity and giving to one another, so it is a unique opportunity to show our grandchildren what the spirit of giving really is about.
What do you think? Are your grandchildren selfish? Or do they enjoy giving to others and sharing? How have you shown them correct behaviours? Tell us below.