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Babies are altruistic, ready to give up food even when hungry: Study

The study is based on the marshmallow test that dates back to the 1970s, which probed children's ability to delay gratification when offered a yummy snack.

By: Parenting Desk |
February 5, 2020 6:03:58 pm
parenting, altruism Babies engage in altruism, reveals study. (Source Getty Images)

Will a child ever give a yummy snack to a stranger who seems to want one? In a new study conducted by the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brains Sciences, it was found that not just older children, even babies would engage in this kind of altruism.

The study is based on the marshmallow test that dates back to the 1970s, which probed children’s ability to delay gratification when given a yummy snack.

In the recent study, researchers followed how 100 babies, each 19 months old, behaved when presented with fruits like blueberries and grapes. A researcher pretended to drop the fruit onto a tray and reach for it unsuccessfully. It was found that 58 percent of the babies picked up the fruit and gave it to the researcher.

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But would the kids have passed the fruit even when hungry? To test this, researchers repeated the experiment with a new set of infants before their scheduled snack or mealtime. Around 37 per cent of them still picked up the fruit and offered it to the researcher. “We think this captures a kind of baby-sized version of altruistic helping,” co-author Andrew Meltzoff was quoted as saying.

During the experiment, the kids had no verbal prompting or facial feedback from the researcher. And the researcher also did not reciprocate by giving something in return to the child.

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The study had some limitations, of course, namely “the small sample size, the skewed sample of parents who come into research laboratories, and the desirability in the future of video recordings of infants’ sociocultural experiences at home, according to the researchers.

“We speculate that certain child-rearing practices and values … convey the expectation to infants that people tend to help others and may engender in children a generalised feeling of interpersonal obligation towards other humans in need,” the authors were quoted as saying.

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