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Young Children Actively Choose Not to Share, Study Reports

Update Date: Apr 04, 2013 01:26 PM EDT
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Sharing is caring is one of the most popular mottos that parents use when teaching their young ones the importance of being selfless and sharing with others. Despite the fact that young children learn to share very early on in life, these toddlers do not seem to appreciate this life lesson at such a young age. A new study reports that children apparently understand the message and the reasons why sharing is a nice and good action, but actively choose not to do so.  

The study, headed by Craig Smith who is a postdoctoral fellow from the University of Michigan's psychology department, looked into how young children interpreted these life principles. The research team used stickers with the scratch and sniff feature in their experiment, which they considered to be a highly demanded item for children. They gave one group of children from three to eight-years-old these stickers and asked them general questions about sharing. All 102 children stated that they would be willing to split up the stickers evenly amongst other children and that they believed that fellow children would do the same as well. Despite the fact that these children displayed their knowledge that sharing is nice, when they were asked to divide the stickers up, the children turned their backs on their own statements and did not want to share.

This is the first study to look into the differences between what children say they want to do and what they actually will do. The researchers found that children did not start following their own theories until they reached the ages of seven and eight. The researchers looked at the role of impulse control in younger children in attempting to explain why toddlers do not like to share. They found that young toddlers were less able to control their impulsive actions, which would explain why they did not share as frequently as older children. Older children were also better able at predicting their own behaviors, with more of them doing what they said they would do. But, the study did reveal that more young kids could predict their own behaviors more accurately than hypothesized.

"The youngest kids were most likely to hoard and the oldest kids were most likely to evenly split the stickers. The youngest kids have this odd self-awareness and were able to correctly predict their own lack of sharing," Smith stated.

This study reveals a lot about how children develop and learn to change their behaviors depending on new experiences. The researchers noted that actually sharing items as opposed to theoretically sharing items is a part of learning that comes with age and more development, and not just simply from a few words and principles.

The study was published in the journal, PLoS ONE.

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