Adults act compassionately, become more generous when children are around

BATH, United Kingdom — Usually, the older and more experienced in society educate their younger counterparts. However, that doesn’t mean children don’t have some wisdom to share too. Researchers from the University of Bath and Cardiff University find adults are both more generous and twice as likely to make a charitable donation when in the presence of children.

Study authors asked adults to describe what they consider to be “typical” childhood behavior over the course of eight experiments involving over 2,000 participants. After this thought exercise, adults were more inclined to adopt compassionate values, such as helpfulness and support for social justice. They also reported greater feelings of empathy for other people.

“While previous evidence has shown that we are typically more helpful and empathetic towards children, no research has been done to date to examine whether the presence of children alone encourages us to be more pro-social towards others in general. Our research addresses this gap by showing that the presence of children elicits broad pro-social motivation and donation behavior towards causes not directly related to children,” lead researcher Dr. Lukas Wolf from the Department of Psychology at Bath says in a university release.

Even around strangers, adults try to set a good example

Another field study revealed adults are more likely to make a charity donation on the street when more children are around than adults. For example, with no children present at all, adult pedestrians made a donation roughly once every 10 minutes. However, when the same number of kids and adults were present, adults made two donations every 10 minutes. Researchers say these results can’t be explained by more foot traffic during certain hours or whether donors were accompanied by a child.

Consequently, study authors theorize the very presence of kids among adults motivates grown-ups to act more generously. Notably, this effect seems to hold up for all adults. It doesn’t matter if they’re a parent themselves, or even particularly like children.

“Our findings showing the importance of children for compassionate behavior in society provides a glimpse of a much bigger impact,” Dr. Wolf adds. “Children are indirectly dependent on how adults behave towards each other and towards the planet. Yet, children are also separated from many adult environments, such as workplaces and from political bodies where important decisions affect their futures.”

“The finding that the presence of children motivates adults to be more compassionate towards others calls for more integration of children in contexts where adults make important long-term decisions, such as on climate change,” he concludes.

The study appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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John Anderer

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