Researchers have discovered certain neural markers that can predict childhood generosity.
These neural markers appear to be linked to the child’s observation of another’s prosocial (or antisocial) behaviors. Their findings are published online in the journal Current Biology.
For the study, neuroscientists at the University of Chicago wanted to find out how young children’s brains evaluate whether or not to share something with others out of generosity. In this study, generosity was used as a proxy for moral behavior.
“We know that generosity in children increases as they get older,” said Dr. Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry. He added that neuroscientists have not yet examined the mechanisms that guide the increase in generosity.
“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.”
Using electroencephalography (EEG), researchers recorded the brain waves of 57 children, aged three to five, while they viewed short cartoons of characters helping or hurting each other.
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