Disasters make older children more generous and younger kids selfish

Washington, Jan 31 (ANI): A natural disaster can bring out the best in older children, prompting 9-year-olds to be more willing to share, while 6-year-olds become more selfish, a study has revealed.

Researchers at the University of Toronto, the University of Chicago, and Liaoning Normal University made this finding in a rare natural experiment in China around the time of a horrific earthquake.

A crucial difference between the two age groups emerged one month after the disaster.

The 6-year-olds' willingness to share in a test measuring altruism dropped by a third, while among 9-year-olds, willingness to give to others nearly tripled. Three years later, children in the age groups returned to pre-earthquake levels of altruism.

"The study provides the first evidence to suggest that experiencing a natural disaster affects children's altruistic giving significantly," Kang Lee, university distinguished professor at the University of Toronto said.

"The immediate negative effect of the earthquake on 6-year-olds suggests that altruism at that age is still fragile," Lee said.

"We think that empathy is the intervening variable," Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, a member of the research team and a study co-author said.

The study demonstrates the developmental differences in the growth of empathy, Decety explained.

As children grow up, their prefrontal cortex matures with improved connections among the circuits involved with emotion.

"As they grow older, children become able to better regulate their own vicarious emotions and understand better what they feel, and they are more inclined to act pro-socially," Decety said.

"Even with the group of 9-year-olds, we show that not only are they more altruistic and give more than the 6-year-olds, but those 9-year olds with higher empathy scores donated significantly more than 9-year-olds with lower scores," Decety added.

The study titled 'Experiencing a Natural Disaster Alters Children's Altruistic Giving' is set to be published in the journal Psychological Science. (ANI)

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