Researcher Jean Decety said that they know that generosity in children increases as they get older, adding that neuroscientists have not yet examined the mechanisms that guide the increase in generosity.
Decety added that the results of this study demonstrate that children exhibit both distinct early automatic and later more controlled patterns of neural responses when viewing scenarios showing helping and harmful behaviors. It's that later more controlled neural response that is predictive of generosity.
The results shed light on the theory of moral development by documenting the respective contribution of automatic and cognitive neural processes underpinning moral behavior in children, Decety concluded in the paper.
The developmental scientists found evidence from the EEG that the children exhibited early automatic responses to morally laden stimuli (the scenarios) and then reappraised the same stimuli in a more controlled manner, building to produce implicit moral evaluations.
Decety continued that these findings provide an interesting idea that by encouraging children to reflect upon the moral behavior of others, people may be able to foster sharing and generosity in them, adding that these findings show that, contrary to several predominant theories of morality, while gut reactions to the behavior of others do exist, they are not associated with one's own moral behavior, as in how generous the children were with their stickers.
The study is published online by Current Biology.
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