An earlier study said that young kids were naturally saints; the new one finds evidence of sinners.
As we discovered in Portland, Oregon, some people get completely unhinged about noticing that children are sinners. Of course, “sinner” in the Bible can sometimes refer to a full unbeliever or apostate from the truth. In that sense, children are not in the category. But if it refers merely to an innate sinfulness—a propensity to sin as an expression of a sinful nature, then children are certainly sinners who need Jesus just like older sinners do.
Modern people really don’t want to believe the Bible on this point. So they try to come up with disproof. Back in 2006, a study purported to show that eighteen-month-olds were naturally altruistic. Allegedly these toddlers were willing to help others without being asked or told to do so.
But it turns out that the results are doubtful.
Newser.com recently summarized the stories under the headline, “No, Your Kid Was Not Born an Altruistic Little Angel.”
new research out of Stanford and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that these kids were actually primed by the playful researchers, if subtly, to display generosity—which means that altruistic behavior may be dictated by our experiences, however brief, instead of mere instinct, reports Stanford News. “People often call something ‘innate’ because they don’t understand the kinds of subtle experiences that can make something, like altruism, flourish,” says the lead author, admitting that “the findings will stir up some controversy, but in a good way.”
To investigate the effect of the original study’s priming, researchers mimicked it with a group of 34 toddlers, rolling a ball back and forth with the child while chatting, then knocking over an object to see if the child would pick it up. They split the group in two; in the second group, the adult and child played with their own ball independently while talking. Turns out the kids who played with the adult were three times as likely to help out and pick up the dropped object. “Kids are always on the lookout for social cues, and this is a very prominent one,” says another researcher. “Does the person’s play indicate that they’ll care for me? These actions communicate a mutuality, and the child responds in kind.”
Even though the human race is sinful, it still follows certain creational patterns. The young still depend on, instinctively trust, and learn from the old. Children learn from their parents.
What bothers me about this study is the question: What kind of “subtle experiences” have I been giving to my children? My fear is that they aren’t always teaching the lessons I want them to learn. Children may not be naturally saints, but they do have a lot of potential and—if exposed to the Gospel—can fight against sin and learn righteousness.
Do we get in the way of that?