People tend to think that religious upbringing is necessary for a child to learn about morality. However, a study conducted at Chicago University is proving the exact opposite. Those who were being brought up with religion are actually not as kind as the children raised without religion.
Prof. Jean Decety of Chicago University led a team of researchers in examining the perspective and actions of 1170 children from the ages of 5 to 12. The children were selected from Jordan, Canada, South Africa, China, the USA, and Turkey. The goal of the study was to assess altruistic tendencies through the habit of sharing, as well as punitive and judgemental attitudes.
Surprisingly, the children who had had a religious upbringing were not as keen on sharing, unlike the children raised without religion. The former also had more of an inclination to punishment whenever they thought someone was behaving badly. Religious parents, on the other hand, tended to believe that their children were highly sensitive and empathetic, unlike the children of non-religious parents.
To assess their altruistic tendencies, the subjects had to participate in a modified ‘Dictator Game’. Each child was handed ten stickers and they were allowed to give some of them to one other child who they could not see. Their altruistic tendencies were calculated using the average number of stickers that they were willing to share.
They were also shown animated videos portraying characters pushing or bumping others by accident or on purpose. The kids then had to describe whether that action was mean and how that character should be punished. This task judged their moral sensitivity.
In the meantime, the parents had to answer a survey on what religion and practices they believed in and how empathetic and fair they thought their children were. The three major categories that had enough participants to make for large sample size were Christian, Muslim, and non-religious.
As earlier research had already indicated, older children shared more than younger kids. The surprising part was that the children from religious families weren’t as willing to share as much as the children from the third category and this tendency only grew stronger as they grew older.
Moreover, children whose families belonged in the first two categories were also in favor of harsh punitive measures for what they thought was bad behavior. They also tended to make harsh judgments on the characters who exhibited those traits. But this conclusion only substantiates earlier work on older people which has concluded that tough punishments and religiosity go hand in hand.
According to Decety, the results of this study are in contradiction to the generally accepted notion that religion teaches kids altruism and kindness. Religion decreases altruistic tendencies even across borders.
This study has to make us think about whether religion is actually necessary to learn morality. A secular moral narrative is in no way detrimental to being kind and empathetic. It might actually help more than religion.