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Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from secular households, a study of almost 1,200 children found.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology in 2015, found that children from Christian and Muslim children "were less altruistic than children from non-religious households".

Children aged between five and 12 in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa were asked to choose stickers. They were then told there were not enough to go around for all children in their school, to see if they would share resources.

They were also shown a film of children physically pushing others, to gauge their responses and their perceptions of appropriate punishments.

Around 24 per cent were Christian, 43 per cent were Muslim, and 27.6 per cent were non-religious. Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and other children were in too small numbers to be statistically valid.

The study authors wrote:

Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others.

More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.

Older children with longer exposure to religion exhibited the greatest negative relations.

Muslim children judged interpersonal harm as more mean than children from Christian families. Non-religious children were found to be the least judgemental.

The study counters the unfounded stereotype that atheists are less ethical than religious people.

HT Bloomsmag

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