Children from poorer families have shown greater levels of altruism, than those from wealthier backgrounds; which could lead to a more psychologically satisfied and healthy life, a recent study finds.
Researchers from University of California, Davis (UC Davis), decided to evaluate how preschoolers' nervous systems behaved when given the opportunity to act selflessly; analyzing whether similar effects happened compared to studies done on adults.
74 preschoolers were told by researchers that they could earn 20 "tokens" by participating in various activities over two hours, which would consequently be traded in for prizes.
At the end of the experiment, preschoolers – aged four – were given the opportunity to donate some tokens to "fictitious sick children" who were not able to attend.
Analysts took into account each child's actions in relation to their socioeconomic background, discovering that those from more affluent backgrounds would donate less "tokens" than those who were poorer.
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The main reason for the experiment was to study health effects. During the test, electrodes were attached to children's torsos – with parental consent – to record physiological data, including heart rate and vagal tone – a nerve highlighting how calm the body acts in specific situations.
A higher vagal tone has been linked to more relaxed, reassured behavior, which leads to better physical, social and mental health.
Whilst it may be a cost to the individual to be altruistic, the research highlighted that those who gave away tokens showed greater signs of calm and wellbeing during the test.
Overall, results prompted researchers to believe that acting altruistic from as young as four can be beneficial for later in life psychologically, for instance those who may be burdened by low incomes may have their worries offset if they maintain altruistic behavior.
One of the lead researchers, Jonas Miller, said in a statement following the report's publication that adults who have a wealthier socioeconomic lifestyle showed signs of "increased self-focus and decreased social sensitivity" which may be detectable in children too.
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