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5-Year-Olds are Generous, but Only When Being Watched

It’s good news, bad news time again, everyone! The good news? Five-year-old kids can be very generous and inclined to share their toys. The bad news? They’re only likely to do so if they know they’re being watched. So anyone who was still holding onto that dream wherein we’re all just naturally good people who are inclined to help one another out: You can let that one die. On the plus side, the rest of us will finally stop laughing at you. Y’know, to your face anyway.

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The Yale University study in question, published today in the journal PLoS ONE, looked at how likely five-year-old children were to share stickers they had been given when an adult was present, and when none were. The depressing, but perhaps unsurprising result, is that kids are much more likely to share when a monitor can see whether they’re sharing or not. They’re also more likely to share when sharing is transparent and the person they’re sharing with can see how much they’re sharing. Kids who could share without being monitored were much more likely to be chintzy with others.

Part of the reason this is so predictable is that this is the same way that adults decide whether to be charitable, suggesting that generosity is not our first instinct — unless we know we’re going to look good in front of other people doing it. It also shows that we develop strategies around sharing very early in life, learning when we’re going to get the most attention and credit for sharing. Which is apparently the only reason we give a damn about sharing in the first place.

(via Science Codex)

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