Selfless help: the act of giving something desirable by giving it up. Perhaps, however, it is no longer so obvious when it comes to food. Adults often help people in need through fundraising, food raising, or simply by giving people in need something to eat. But when and how the spirit of giving is born? New research from the University of Washington’s Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences, or I-LABS, has found that altruism can start from childhood. The study was carried out on almost 100 19-month-old babies, and the researchers found that children, even when hungry, gave a tasty snack to a stranger in need. The results not only show that children undertake a altruistic behavior, but also suggest that early social experiences may shape altruism. The study was published online Feb. 4 in Scientific Reports, an open access journal of the Nature Publishing Group.
Declare Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, postdoctoral researcher at I-LABS and lead author of the study:
Non-human primates have been found to cooperate and share resources under limited conditions. But non-human primates, such as chimpanzees, don’t actively deliver delicious foods they need for themselves.
I-LABS researchers wanted check if the children were able to act beyond self-interest, in front of one of the most basic biological needs: food.
For this study, the researchers chose fruit suitable for children – including bananas, blueberries and grapes – and created an interaction between the child and the researcher.
The goal: to determine if the child, without encouragement, verbal instruction or reinforcement, would spontaneously give a tasty food to an unfamiliar person.
In the experiment, the child and the adult researcher met on a table of the I-LABS e the researcher showed the child a fruit. What happened next was determined by two factors: whether the child was in the control group or the test group. In the control group, the researcher gently threw the piece of fruit onto a tray on the floor out of reach but within reach of the child.
The researcher showed no expression and made no attempt to retrieve the fruit. In the test group, the researcher pretended to accidentally drop the fruit on the tray, then reached it unsuccessfully.
The effort to reach – the apparent desire of the adult for food – seemed to trigger a help response in children, the researchers said: more than half of the children in the test group picked the fruit and gave it to the adult, compared with 4% of children in the control group.
In a second experiment with a different sample of children, parents were asked to bring their child just before their scheduled snack or meal time, when they were likely to be hungry. The researchers said this would increase the “cost per se” which defines altruism. The control and test group scenarios were repeated, but with the children now more motivated to take the fruit for themselves. The results mirrored those of the previous study. Completely the 37% of the test group offered the fruit to the researcher, while none of the children in the control group did.
“The children in this second study looked longingly at the fruit and then gave it away!” he claims Andrew Meltzoff, who is co-director of I-LABS and holds the Job and Gertrud Tamaki chair of psychology. “We think this captures a kind of child-friendly version of selfless help. “
The research team also analyzed the data in different ways, such as whether the children offered fruit in the first experiment or whether they improved during the process, for example, and whether children from particular types of family backgrounds helped the most. . The researchers found that the children helped equally well in both the first trial of the experiment and in the subsequent trials, which Barragan said was instructive because it shows that the children did not have to learn to help during the study and did not need training. Effectively, the children spontaneously and repeatedly helped a person outside their family.
The researchers also found that children with siblings and of some cultural background were particularly likely to help the adult, indicating that theexpression of infantile altruism is malleableAnd. These findings fit well with previous studies with adults showing positive influences from having a cultural background that emphasizes “interdependence”, that is, a background that places particular value on how connected an individual feels to others.