Generosity provides benefits to others but also has positive consequences for oneself. Both children and adults experience a “warm glow” when they give to others and generous acts strengthen social bonds. Thus, a major goal of a science of virtue is to cultivate generosity in children. However, existing research on children’s giving has revealed a problem which has not been fully examined. Across dozens of experiments, children give up to half of the resources provided under many conditions, but rarely give more even after explicit prompts. That is, giving up to half is relatively easy, but giving more than half is hard. We believe that this pattern reflects a cognitive bias that is central to a theory of the development of generosity.
This project will examine the evidence for this psychological limit on giving in childhood in light of three possible explanations. The main activities are a) to write a theoretical review and b) to conduct experiments to test mechanisms to encourage giving more than half. This project will answer the following Big Questions:
1) Why is giving more than half so difficult for children? We will conduct a systematic review of the evidence for three hypotheses: fairness, self-protection and individual differences in cognitive skills. Each account emphasizes different cognitive processes and underlying representations. The result will be a new theory of the development of generosity.
2) How can we encourage more generous giving in children? We will conduct theory-driven experiments to identify the most effective mechanisms for encouraging children to give more than half. The results will provide a foundation for educational efforts to cultivate generosity in childhood.
The project will result in at least two empirical papers and one theoretical paper published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. We expect this work to advance the science of generosity by providing a strong theoretical foundation for future research and education.