In a study to find out if kids who grow up with a strong religious background are nicer, more compassionate and more kind than secular children, it was revealed that religious kids are simply more mean, less-tolerant, more-punitive, and less-forgiving than kids who don’t grow up in a religious household.
Looking at mostly Christian, Muslim and secular children, researchers from a number of different universities around the world coordinated to compare the behavior and attitudes a group of around 1200 children from many backgrounds.
The study conducted social experiments to determine how the children reacted in differing scenarios involving concepts like sharing, as well as their reactions to scenarios where bullying occurred. Included were four key tests:
Dictator Game – In this task, children were shown a set of 30 stickers and were told to choose their ten favorite. They were then told ‘‘these stickers are yours to keep.’’ Children were instructed that the experimenter did not have the time to play this game with all of the children in their school, so not everyone would be able to receive stickers.
Moral Sensitivity Task – In this computerized task, used previously with children in both behavioral and functional neuroimaging studies, a series of short dynamic visual scenarios depicting interpersonal harm (e.g., pushing, bumping) was presented.
Maternal Education – As a metric for socioeconomic status, parents were asked to specify the level of education of the mother.
Child Dispositional Measures – The Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy (QCAE) to assess children’s empathy and the justice sensitivity inventory to measure children’s sensitivity to injustice were reported by parents.
According to the report the conclusions,“robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households.”
The 3 key conclusions of the study are:
- Family religious identification decreases children’s altruistic behaviors
- Religiousness predicts parent-reported child sensitivity to injustices and empathy
- Children from religious households are harsher in their punitive tendencies
Additionally, it appears that as children grow the negative behaviors and attitudes increase, as the study showed that older children had the highest rates of meanness and judgments of meanness.
Over half of the world’s population self-identifies with either Islam or Christianity:
“As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31 percent) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth… Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population.” [Source]
The interesting question that this study raises is, ‘does religion help people to become more moral and virtuous? The answer appears to be no, it does not. However, in 2014 a worldwide Pew research suvey found that most people around the world believe that religion is essential to morality. The recent study contradicts this commonly held belief.
“While it is generally accepted that religion contours people’s moral judgments and pro-social behaviour, the relation between religion and morality is a contentious one.’ [Source]
At time when the world is looking down the barrel of a global holy war between Islam and Christianity, many people are asking if religion is vital for moral development, and it appears that it may in fact not be.