Adults are more generous and compassionate in the presence of children.
Researchers from the University of Bath and Cardiff University undertook eight experiments with more than 2000 participants and found that the presence of children can cause adults to be more generous.
“The research consists of two parts: a series of experiments and a field study. The experiments showed that thinking about children increases adults’ motivation to be compassionate. More specifically, adult participants in the experiments were asked to describe what children are typically like (for example, their appearance or personality), and they later reported higher willingness to attain broad prosocial goals such as helping others, social justice, and protecting the environment,” Dr. Lukas Wolf, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath told Theravive.
“Participants also reported greater empathy with the plight of other adults when children were made salient. These effects emerged in a range of people: parents and non-parents, men and women, younger and older participants, and even among those who had relatively negative attitudes towards children. The findings hence point to a pervasive effect with deep and wide-ranging implications for society.”
In undertaking the research, Wolf and colleagues conducted a field study involving charity donations for a charity called “Bath Marrow” which raises money for people with bone marrow cancer. The field study was conducted on a shopping street in Bath.
When there were no children present and all the people who passed by were adults, researchers found they received approximately one donation every ten minutes. When children were present at the same ratio of adults on the shopping street, adults who passed by made two donations every ten minutes.
“These effects could not be accounted for by higher footfall during busy times or whether donors were accompanied by a child or not. Instead, they suggest that the presence of children can nudge adults to donate more often, even when the charity is not specifically linked to children,” Wolf said.
Importantly, the researchers found the presence of children encouraged people to donate more generously to the Bath Marrow charity, even when the cause wasn’t directly related to children.
The researchers have dubbed this phenomenon the “child salience effect”.
“We have termed this pattern of findings a “child salience effect”, which shows that when adults think about children or when children are more present in everyday life, adults are more compassionate and generous,” Wolf said.
He argues the findings of the study could have important implications.
“This effect suggests that we need to consider more ways to involve children in various aspects of life to promote a kinder and more supportive society. Despite the importance of children to society, they are often separated from adult environments, such as workplaces or restaurants, and from political and legislative bodies where important decisions affect their future, such as around climate change,” he said.
“The potential for a widespread child salience effect suggests that society needs to consider more ways to involve children in various aspects of life. For example, explicitly considering impacts on children in political and legislative bodies may be beneficial for curbing short-sighted decision making and promoting decisions that appropriately take the needs and rights of children and future generations into account.”
Wolf says initiatives that promote the voices of children and young people not only have an important benefit for the children involved, but will also have a prosocial benefit that will also impact adults.
“In short, we believe children play an important role in making society a better place, but this role needs to be recognised.”
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.