Adults are more generous in the presence of children, new research shows

Adults are more generous in the presence of children, new research shows

Even non-parents were found to be more prosocial if youngsters were present. Most of us assume that we tend to be kinder towards children than we are to adults. Past research confirms this assumption, showing that we’re more caring towards children, and that this effect even extends to being more helpful and empathic towards baby-faced adults.

But no work has been done to examine whether the mere presence of children encourages us to be compassionate and helpful in general—influencing us to be kinder towards other adults, or more giving to charities.

Our recent research set out to understand whether we’re motivated to be more prosocial —defined as behaving in a way that’s intended to benefit others—when we’re either around children, or thinking about them.

Across eight experiments featuring more than 2,000 participants, and a large field study, we found adults to be more generous and compassionate when children were present—suggesting initiatives such as the ” Children’s Parliament “, which aim to introduce children into what are traditionally adult spaces, could have a profound influence on adult decision-making across society.

Emotions and children

We know that children elicit strong emotions in us, especially when they come to harm. For example, few images have sparked such an international outcry of sympathy as the photo of a dead boy , Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach during the 2015 Syrian migration crisis.

In fact, research has found that sympathy with Kurdi’s fate generated concern and solidarity with refugees more widely, as evidenced by greater social media engagement , a 100-fold increase in the number of donations made to aid Syrian refugees, and announcements of new governmental policies to resettle more than 150,000 refugees .

In some ways, the power of this single image is not surprising. Organizations that lobby for the poor and vulnerable have long suspected that they can enhance interest and support by putting children front and center of their campaigns. For instance, children have been featured in campaigns for charity donations , environmental protection and healthy living . These campaigns reveal a widespread assumption that children elicit sympathetic reactions in adults. Increasing sympathy

In our experiments, we wanted to find out whether the emotional effect inspired by children extends beyond our feelings for the young and into the wider world. To encourage adult participants to think about children, we asked them to describe what typical children are like (for example, their appearance and typical behavior). Participants in control conditions described typical adults or skipped this task.

Those participants we asked to describe children later reported higher prosocial motivation. That is, they reported a greater willingness to attain broad prosocial goals such as helping others, social justice, and protecting the […]

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