Curious Parents

Two-Year-Olds Love Helping Others As Much As They Love Helping Themselves

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Before you dismiss all 2-year-olds because of the "terrible twos," hear this: a recent study shows that 2-year-olds experience a similar amount of joy when helping others as they do when helping themselves. That's right: adults are more selfish than toddlers.

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Toddlers, The Natural Altruists

Why do people help others? As adults, no act of kindness is performed without an expectation of personal gain. (Science says so.) Our brains literally reward us for being generous. In a January 2017 study released in the journal Developmental Psychology, researchers sought to discover what drives toddlers to be altruistic. Sure, it's partly an evolutionary adaptation, but there's a purer motivator: it brings them unbridled joy.

For this study, nearly 100 2-year-olds were placed in front of wooden marbles and a tube apparatus. The researchers deciphered the toddlers' emotions through Microsoft's Kinetic body-motion capture system. When each toddler ran out of wooden marbles, the researcher (who was busy hanging clothes on a line) reached for a box, then pretended to struggle with the lid. When the researcher asked each toddler to help remove the lid, he or she found a control object (a random piece of plastic), a wooden marble, or a clothes peg. According to Research Digest, the Kinetic measurements showed a similar, positive posture when the toddlers discovered marbles for themselves and when they found a peg to help the researcher: "chest raised, a bit like an adult display of pride."

Renew Your Faith In Humanity

In most cases, discovering a peg that would help the researcher was just as exciting as discovering a marble, which would be super fun to play with. See? Not-so-terrible twos, after all. The study concludes by stating: "these results suggest that for young children, working for themselves and helping others are similarly rewarding." And cue the collective awws.

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