Tiny tots are happy giving treats to others

Toddlers less than two years old find great joy in giving treats to others than receiving one themselves, says a new psychological study.

“People tend to assume that toddlers are naturally selfish,” said Lara Aknin, who co-authored the study with University of British Columbia (UBC) colleagues Kiley Hamlin and Elizabeth Dunn, both professors of psychology.

During the study, each toddler received some treats, such as Goldfish crackers. A few minutes later, the toddler was asked to give one of these treats away to a puppet, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reported.

In addition, the experimenter provided an extra treat and asked the child to give this to the puppet. The children’s reactions were videotaped and later rated for happiness on a seven-point scale, according to a university statement.

When toddlers shared their own treat with a puppet, they displayed greater happiness than when giving a treat provided by the researcher. This contrast underscores the role of personal sacrifice, and rather than finding it aversive, suggests that children find this behaviour emotionally rewarding.

“What’s most exciting about these findings is that children are happiest when giving their own treats away,” said Aknin. “Forfeiting their own valuable resources for the benefit of others makes them happier than giving away just any treat.”

These findings shed light on a long-standing puzzle: Why do humans help others, including people they’ve just met? Part of the answer, it seems, is that giving feels good.

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