Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Disasters prompt older children to be more giving, younger ones to be more selfish

Date:
January 30, 2013
Source:
University of Chicago
Summary:
A natural disaster can bring out the best in older children, prompting 9-year-olds to be more willing to share, while 6-year-olds become more selfish. Researchers made this finding in a rare natural experiment in China around the time of a horrific earthquake.

In early 2008, Profs. Jean Decety, Kang Lee and Hong Li were in Sichuan, China, working on a study on empathy and altruism among children and had completed the first portion of it. In May 2008, an earthquake struck the region and killed 87,000 people. The team immediately decided to change the course of their study and explore what the experience of a disaster might mean to the children’s concern for others.
Credit: Courtesy of Hong Li, Jean Decety, Kang Lee

A natural disaster can bring out the best in older children, prompting 9-year-olds to be more willing to share, while 6-year-olds become more selfish. Researchers at the University of Toronto, the University of Chicago, and Liaoning Normal University made this finding in a rare natural experiment in China around the time of a horrific earthquake.

Related Articles


A crucial difference between the two age groups emerged one month after the disaster. The 6-year-olds' willingness to share in a test measuring altruism dropped by a third, while among 9-year-olds, willingness to give to others nearly tripled. Three years later, children in the age groups returned to pre-earthquake levels of altruism.

"The study provides the first evidence to suggest that experiencing a natural disaster affects children's altruistic giving significantly," said Kang Lee, university distinguished professor at the University of Toronto.

"The immediate negative effect of the earthquake on 6-year-olds suggests that altruism at that age is still fragile," Lee said.

"We think that empathy is the intervening variable," said Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, a member of the research team and a study co-author. The study demonstrates the developmental differences in the growth of empathy, Decety explained.

As a child grow up, the prefrontal cortex matures with improved connections among the circuits involved with emotion. "As they grow older, children become able to better regulate their own vicarious emotions and understand better what they feel, and they are more inclined to act pro-socially," said Decety.

"Even with the group of 9-year-olds, we show that not only are they more altruistic and give more than the 6-year-olds, but those 9-year olds with higher empathy scores donated significantly more than 9-year-olds with lower scores," Decety added.

The journal Psychological Science will publish the study in an upcoming issue in a paper titled "Experiencing a Natural Disaster Alters Children's Altruistic Giving." Lee, who is a professor at the Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, was a lead author. Two Chinese academics, Hong Li and Yiyuan Li from Liaoning Normal University also were part of the team.

In early 2008, the researchers were in Sichuan, China, working on a study on empathy and altruism among children and had completed the first portion of it. In May 2008, an earthquake struck the region and killed 87,000 people.

The team immediately decided to change the course of their study and explore what the experience of a disaster might mean to the children's concern for others.

In the study, the team tested children's altruism by having them individually pick 10 favorite stickers from a set of 100. Afterward, they were told some of their classmates were not included in the test and asked if they would give up some of the stickers for them to enjoy. Without the researcher watching, children would put stickers into an envelope and seal it if they wanted to share. The amount of stickers they chose to give up was determined to be a measure of altruism.

The children also were given a standard test of empathy, which gauged their reactions to seeing animated vignettes of people who are injured. Nine-year-olds had significantly higher scores on empathy on the test than 6-year-olds.

Although there was a significant impact on altruism one month after the disaster, the study showed that groups of 6-year-olds and 9-year-olds had similar levels of altruism in follow-up tests three years after the disaster -- equivalent to the levels observed among 6-year-olds and 9-year-olds immediately before the earthquake.

"Experience with adversity, though generally having negative impacts on children, may in fact be beneficial, at least for older children, in evoking empathy toward others and in turn enhancing their altruistic giving, albeit temporarily," said Hong Li, also a lead author of the paper.

The John Templeton Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Chinese National Science Foundation supported this research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago. The original article was written by William Harms. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Chicago. "Disasters prompt older children to be more giving, younger ones to be more selfish." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130130101816.htm>.
University of Chicago. (2013, January 30). Disasters prompt older children to be more giving, younger ones to be more selfish. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130130101816.htm
University of Chicago. "Disasters prompt older children to be more giving, younger ones to be more selfish." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130130101816.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — Innovative recycling project in La Paz separates city waste and converts plastic garbage into school furniture made from 'plastiwood'. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) — Researchers at Northwestern University are repurposing Blu-ray movies for better solar panel technology thanks to the discs' internal structures. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) — Antarctic sea ice isn't only expanding, it's thicker than previously thought, and scientists aren't sure exactly why. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) — A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins