Generous Toddlers In New Study May Explain The Root Of Altruism

mbg Editorial Assistant By Christina Coughlin
mbg Editorial Assistant
Christina Coughlin is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2019 with a degree in psychology and music.
Three Children Having a Tea Party in a Child's Bedroom

Image by Lumina / Stocksy

It's hard to find a definitive answer to the age-old question: Are humans born good? According to new research, we may have more answers. In a recent study, researchers found that an inherent "goodness" can begin in a person as early as infancy.

What was the research?

The research was conducted with 96 infants, ranging between 19 and 20 months old. The experiment tested if babies would help a stranger in need, using different kinds of fruit as the main driving force. Researchers presented a fruit to each baby, talked excitedly about the fruit, and then dropped it in reaching distance of the baby. Based on the group, the researcher would either reach for the fruit and fail to pick it up or just leave it be. In the group where the researcher showed a struggle for the fruit, babies were much more likely to pick up the fruit and hand it to the stranger without any verbal prompting.

Researchers then tested to see if the results were still applicable when infants hadn't already eaten, conducting the study at a typical feeding time for the children. Even when hungry, they offered the fruit back to the researcher, prioritizing someone else's needs over their own needs—the key to altruism

Article continues below

Why does it matter?

"We think altruism is important to study because it is one of the most distinctive aspects of being human. It is an important part of the moral fabric of society," says lead author Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, Ph.D. "We adults help each other when we see another in need, and we do this even if there is a cost to the self. So we tested the roots of this in infants."

The fact that babies were able to sacrifice their needs to help a struggling stranger without verbal instruction or any real understanding of their motivations shows that altruism may be an inherent trait that some are just born with.

What's next?

According to Barragan, "We think certain family and social experiences make a difference, and continued research would be desirable to more fully understand what maximizes the expression of altruism in young children. If we can discover how to promote altruism to our kids, this could move us toward a more caring society."

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

More On This Topic

The Ultimate Guide To Plant-Based Nutrition

The Ultimate Guide To Plant-Based Nutrition
More Relationships

Popular Stories

Latest Articles

Latest Articles

Sites We Love

Your article and new folder have been saved!