Like many adults, kids tend to be more generous when someone else is aware of their actions. A new study from Yale University says age isn’t really a factor when it comes to giving.
Previous research with adults has shown that they are more likely to act in ways that will benefit their reputation if they know someone else is aware of their actions. If they know that their actions are going to be made public, they also tend to be more generous compared to when they are giving anonymously.
Research on children has been rather scant in relation to this topic. The researchers at Yale University decided to see if young children were as inclined to be more generous when they knew their actions were being watched as adults.
According to the results of the study, scientists have concluded that children view generosity pretty much as adults do.
Researchers gave stickers to 5-year-old children who had the option of sharing one or four of the stickers with another child of the same age. The children were more generous when they could see the recipient than when the recipient was hidden. They were also more generous when they had to give the stickers in a transparent container rather than in one where the stickers could not be seen. No matter how many stickers the children were allowed to keep for themselves, the results were the same when they were ask to give others stickers. If they could see who was getting the stickers – they gave more. If the amount of stickers they were giving, could be seen by others – they gave more. If not- they gave less.
The scientists deduced from these results that children as young as five years of age are able to make strategic decisions about whether to be generous or not if no one sees their gift.
"Although the frequency with which children acted antisocially is striking, the conditions under which they chose to act generously are even more interesting and suggest that children likely use much more sophisticated pro-social strategies than we previously assumed," study author Kristin Lyn Leimgruber said in a journal news release.
"Much like the patterns of charity we see in adults, donation tendencies in children appear to be driven by the amount of information available to others about their actions -- for both adults and children, the more others know about their actions, the more likely they are to act generously," Leimgruber said.
The study was published in the journal PLoS One.
The study begs the question, what is generosity? Is generosity limited to how much is given or is it simply the act of giving? Most dictionaries define generosity as being generous. Generous is defined as “Liberal in giving,” “Characterized by a noble and forbearing spirit.” People give in all kinds of ways, and some people are better at giving than others.
In an individualist society generosity is not necessarily a benefit to the individual- they may give away what they need to survive. In communal relationships, generosity may benefit the group and the group’s survival – each helping the other.
So, are children as young as five really capable of being truly generous – with all the underpinnings that come with that word- or are they simply hoping for the chance to be recognized as someone special when others are watching (as some adults do?)
Is the fuller concept of generosity something that has to be learned or is it instinctual?
Although the study’s applications and conclusions appear to be coordinated, I’m inclined to believe that children most likely learn about being generous from the adults or older kids around them.
It could be possible that young children are not necessarily making strategic decisions about generosity, but are simply feeling their way through life - as they know it - without the benefit of experience in life’s complicated but always interesting woven tapestry.
Let us know your thoughts!