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Study Highlights Toddler Sharing Behavior

Although many of us think of toddlerhood as a time when children are primarily focused on themselves, some researchers have speculated that there is more to the story. A recent study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) discovered that toddlers can demonstrate altruism by sharing special items and snacks with people they don’t know – even when the toddlers are hungry!

The researchers set up their study with almost 200 19-month-old children. They showed the toddlers a tasty-looking snack or one of their favorite toys and then “accidentally” dropped it. When the researchers gestured towards the item and indicated that they wanted it back, many of the toddlers (58%) picked it up and gave it back. Find a brief clip of the video below.

The same test was repeated with blueberries at snack time, when the children were particularly hungry. Several of the children shared food with the researchers. Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of I-LABS and Professor of Psychology, noted that the children “looked longingly at the fruit, and then they gave it away!…We think this captures a kind of baby-sized version of altruistic helping.” 

In the final study, the researchers repeated the same process with one of the children’s favorite items, such as toys, sippy cups, blankets, or stuffed animals. Once again, many of the toddlers volunteered to pick up the item and give it to the researcher. 

There was some variation with regard to which children were more likely to share. The researchers noted that cultural differences and sibling relationships could both influence children’s social experiences and practices.  

Click here to read the full article and learn more about the study. 

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