London: Challenging the common perception, a new study has found that children from religious families were selfish and more likely to support harsher punishments than their counterparts from a non-religious background.
The research, published in the journal Current Biology, found that children from religious families were less likely to share with other kids and more likely to support harsher punishments than their non-religious counterparts.
This contradicts the traditional assumption that a religious upbringing makes children less selfish and more kind-hearted towards others, The Sun quoted the study as saying.
The study looked at 1,170 children or varying ages, with around 43 per cent identified as Muslim, 24 per cent Christian and 28 per cent non-religious. The children took part in a task where they were asked to decide how many stickers they would like to share with an anonymous individual from the same school and of a similar ethnic group.
Those who came from non-religious families were significantly more willing to share, the study says. The generosity of non-religious children was less, with little difference in the results between Christians and Muslims, but it was shown to increase with age.
Children from Muslim households were also found to be stronger supporters of harsher punishment for interpersonal harm, but there was no significant differences between children from Christian and non-religious backgrounds, the study says.
Prior to the study, the parents of the children from Christian and Muslim households said they believed their children were "more sensitive" to the injustices towards others than non-religious children.
Researcher Jean Decety of the University of Chicago in Illinois said their findings challenge the widespread notion that people who are religious do more good than those who are not. He said: "This view is unfortunately so deeply embedded that individuals who are not religious can be considered morally suspect.
"In the United States, for instance, non-religious individuals have little chance to be elected to a high political office, and those who identify as agnostic and atheist are considered to be less trustworthy and more likely to be amoral or even immoral. "Thus it is generally admitted that religion shapes people's moral judgments and prosocial behaviour, but the relation between religiosity and morality is actually a contentious one, and not always positive," Decety said.
The children in the study were aged between five and 12 and came from the US, Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa and China.