Kids willing to give up food to strangers, study finds

  • A study has found that altruism begins in infancy
  • They conducted an experiment among groups of 19-month-old toddlers to see if they would be willing to hand a fruit to a stranger
  • They found that even when the children were hungry, they were still kind enough to hand a fruit to the experimenters

A new study has found that altruism, or the act of “giving valuable benefits to others while incurring a personal cost,” begins in infancy.

Image via University of Washington | Kathrin Pienaar

The University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences conducted a study among some 100 19-month-old toddlers to see if they would be willing to give their snack to a stranger even when they themselves are hungry.

During the experiment, they used kid-friendly fruits such as banana, blueberry, strawberry, and grapes. They then set up a scenario between the kid and the researcher to discover if the children would hand the fruit to a stranger even when there was no encouragement, verbal instruction, or reinforcement.

The children were divided into the Begging Experimenter Group (test group) wherein the researchers act that they accidentally dropped the fruit on the tray. He tries to reach for the fruit but he cannot get it because he is blocked by a table. The other group is the Non-Begging Experimenter Group (control group), wherein the experimenter purposefully threw the fruit on the tray within the child’s reach.

Image via University of Washington I-LABS

Results showed that more than half of the children in the test group handed the fruit to the researcher while only 4 percent in the control group did so.

They did a second experiment among a different set of children whose parents were told to bring them just before their meal time in order “raise the ‘cost to self’ that defines altruism.” In the test group, 37 percent handed the fruit back to the researchers while none in the control group did this.

“The infants in this second study looked longingly at the fruit, and then they gave it away. We think this captures a kind of baby-sized version of altruistic helping,” I-LABS co-director Andrew Meltzoff said, according to University of Washington.

Sources: University of Washington, Nature