This Study on Altruistic Toddlers Will Make You Feel a Little Better About the World

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Photo: Remco Douma/Getty Images

Here’s a small piece of warm ‘n’ fuzzy news to carry you into the weekend: Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary, it seems that humanity may have a little innate goodness after all. In a study recently published in the journal Developmental Psychology and highlighted by Christian Jarrett at BPS Research Digest, a team of researchers found that 2-year-old kids are natural altruists, showing the same amount of joy when they have a chance to help others as they do when they receive a gift for themselves. Jarrett explained:

The basic setting was that there was some fun apparatus for rolling wooden marbles down a tube. When the toddlers ran out of marbles, a researcher who had been hanging washing got a box down from the windowsill and struggled with another adult to get the lid off. The toddler was asked to help, and when he or she lifted the lid off the box, she found either a piece of plastic that was good for nothing (a control condition), another wooden marble (helpful for them), or a clothes peg (helpful for the clothes-hanging researcher). This was repeated a few times with the contents of the box varying on each trial.

The study authors observed their tiny subjects as they opened the box, recording both their body language and their general emotional states. On average, the toddlers seemed just as happy when they found the marble as when they found the peg, and both objects made them happier than the useless hunk of plastic — suggesting, the researchers wrote, that “for young children, working for themselves and helping others are similarly rewarding.” As Jarrett noted, the finding comes with a caveat: The experiment was set up so that the kids happened to stumble into circumstances where they could be helpful, rather than putting themselves into a situation where they could proactively seek out the opportunity. Still, it’s a nice reminder that, at least for a little while, selflessness is something that comes easy. The trickier part is figuring out how to keep it that way.

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Here’s a Feel-Good Study About Altruistic Toddlers