Children from religious families are less kind, less generous and more punitive than those from non-religious families, a study of 1200 children across the globe shows.
Researchers from seven universities studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and altruism.
“Overall, our findings … contradict the popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of the study — The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World –published in Current Biology.
Not only is religion not necessary for moral development, the researchers found, it seems to hinder it.
Almost 1,200 children, ages 5 to 12, from the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study. Almost 24% were Christian, 43% Muslim, and 27.6% non-religious. The numbers of Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu children were too small to be statistically significant.
In one of the tests participants were given stickers, told there were not enough for all kids in the group, and then asked if they would share. Both Christian and Islamic children were less generous than the non-religious ones.
The children were also shown a film of children pushing and bumping into each other and asked what they thought about it. The religious children thought the children in the film were deserving of harsher punishment than non-religious children.
Older children with a longer exposure to religion were the least altruistic and most punitive.
The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions,” it said.
Ironically, religious parents were the most likely to report that their children were “more empathetic and more sensitive to the plight of others” than most children.