Summary: According to researchers, preschool aged children are happy when they share on their own accord, but not when they are obligated to do so.
New study shows preschool kids who share of their own accord are happy, but not when they are obliged to do so.
If humans are primarily motivated by self-interest, as traditional economic theory claims, why do we sometimes perform acts of generosity that don’t yield us any material benefits? Indeed, such altruistic behavior may sometimes even come at a personal cost. So, why do we like to give? Because, it turns out, sharing makes us happy. And because we feel happy, we want to share more, explaining why psychologists consistently find that people like to “give” more than they like to “have”.
But do we still enjoy the emotional benefits of sharing if it is not entirely voluntary, but obligated by social norms? Dr. Zhen Wu and colleagues examined this question in a group of preschool children in China, and reported their findings in Frontiers in Psychology. This study is especially intriguing since little children are often encouraged to share, but very little is known about whether they benefit emotionally from such sharing.
In this study, Wu and colleagues compared positive facial expressions (as a measure of happiness) in 3- and 5-year old children who performed a sharing task, which consisted of sharing stickers with their peers. The experiment was set up such that the children were in two sharing groups: one group that shared voluntarily, and the other because they felt obligated to do so.
Both 3- and 5-year olds shared more when they were obligated to share than when it was voluntary. However, such obligated sharing did not make them happy. Interestingly, both 3- and 5-year olds showed greater happiness when they gave stickers away voluntarily, than when they kept them for themselves. “So, it seems that the motivation to give does count,” explains Dr. Wu, “and it also suggests that it is unrealistic to expect a very young child to share under pressure and be happy about it!”
These findings provide fascinating insights into the psychology of preschool age children, and the first evidence that sharing under social norms is less emotionally rewarding than sharing voluntarily. Dr. Wu suggests that preschool teachers might use these findings to guide how they foster sharing in their students.
But the study is not without its drawbacks, cautions Dr. Wu, “for instance, it is difficult to entirely rule out the influence of social norms even in the voluntary giving mode. The giver might have felt pressure to give even when told they were not obliged to.” An important future direction would be to not only replicate these findings with more controls, says Dr. Wu, but also to understand how the positive feedback loop works. “We need to examine how an act of generosity leads to happiness that in turn prompts another act of giving”. And that is a very fascinating question indeed.
About this neuroscience research article
Funding: Funding was provided by National Natural Science Foundation of China, Tsinghua University Lifelong Learning Lab.
Source: Melissa Cochrane – Frontiers Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain. Original Research: Full open access research for “Motivation Counts: Autonomous But Not Obligated Sharing Promotes Happiness in Preschoolers” by Zhen Wu1, Zhen Zhang, Rui Guo and Julie Gros-Louis in Frontiers in Psychology. Published online May 31 2017 doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00867
Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Frontiers “Sharing Voluntarily Makes Young Kids Happy.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 31 May 2017. <https://neurosciencenews.com/voluntary-sharing-happiness-6812/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Frontiers (2017, May 31). Sharing Voluntarily Makes Young Kids Happy. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved May 31, 2017 from https://neurosciencenews.com/voluntary-sharing-happiness-6812/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Frontiers “Sharing Voluntarily Makes Young Kids Happy.” https://neurosciencenews.com/voluntary-sharing-happiness-6812/ (accessed May 31, 2017).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
Motivation Counts: Autonomous But Not Obligated Sharing Promotes Happiness in Preschoolers
Research has demonstrated that prosocial sharing is emotionally rewarding, which leads to further prosocial actions; such a positive feedback loop suggests a proximal mechanism of human’s tendency to act prosocially. However, it leaves open a question as to how the emotional benefits from sharing develop in young children and whether sharing under pressure promotes happiness as well. The current study directly compared 3- and 5-year-old Chinese children’s happiness when sharing was autonomous (the recipient did not contribute to getting the reward) with when sharing was obligated (the recipient and the actor jointly earned the reward). We found that children shared more items overall when sharing was obligated than autonomous, demonstrating their conformity to social norms of merit-based sharing. In children who eventually shared with others, 5-year-olds gave out more stickers in the obligated sharing condition than in the autonomous sharing condition, but 3-year-olds shared the same amount between the conditions, suggesting that 5-year-olds adhered to the merit-based sharing norm more strictly than 3-year-olds. Moreover, in the autonomous sharing condition, children displayed greater happiness when they shared with the recipient than when they kept stickers for themselves, suggesting that costly prosocial giving benefited children with positive mood; however, children did not gain happiness when they shared with the recipient in the obligated sharing condition. These findings demonstrate that children’s affective benefits depend on the motivation underlying their prosocial behavior, and further imply that normative force and emotional gains may independently drive preschoolers’ prosocial behaviors.
“Motivation Counts: Autonomous But Not Obligated Sharing Promotes Happiness in Preschoolers” by Zhen Wu1, Zhen Zhang, Rui Guo and Julie Gros-Louis in Frontiers in Psychology. Published online May 31 2017 doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00867