When children see "good" or "bad" behavior, their brains process the information into an emotional response. Children are judgmental - which is normal human behavior - but according to a study in the journal "Current Biology," there is more to that automatic response.
Researchers in the study, published on Dec. 18, recorded brain activity of children and found that generosity was due to a controlled thought process, according to PsyPost. This study is the first to link moral assessments to moral behavior while ascertaining the brain activity markers.
"Moral evaluation in preschool children, similar to adults, is complex and constructed from both emotion and cognition," said Jean Decety, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Chicago, according to PsyPost. "However, we found that only differences in neural markers of the latter predict actual generosity."
Young kids are often thought of as selfish, which can be true, according to PsyPost, but previous studies have shown that infants are perceptive to unfairness and toddlers can act in ways that benefit others. Generosity only increases as children grow.
Decety and his colleague Jason Cowell examined the brain activity of children between the ages of three to five while the children watched "helpful and harmful scenes" and while they made decisions about how they should treat a child they don't know, according to PsyPost.
The participants were given 10 stickers and they were told they could keep the rewards for themselves. Researchers then told the kids that the next child that would enter the room would not be given any stickers. The children put an average of two of their 10 stickers in a box to share with the unknown child.
"These findings provide an interesting idea that by encouraging children to reflect upon the moral behavior of others, we may be able to foster generosity," said Decety, according to PsyPost.