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BU Researchers Look At What Motivates Kids To Be Generous

BOSTON (CBS) - It's a research lab and it's full of toys. Six-year-old Sophie LeBlanc of Malden is the subject of today's experiment. And she's about to get a gift from another girl she has never met. The catch? The note on the gift says the other girl really didn't want to give Sophie the present, but her mom forced her to give the gift.

It's all part of on-going research at Boston University's Social Development and Learning Lab. Professor Peter Blake and his team are looking at what motivates kids to be generous. Professor Blake explains, "It could be that they feel an elevated state of gratitude or it's somewhat more diminished because the gift was given to them in a forced fashion. Then we give them a chance to pay back the kid who gave them the gift and pay forward to another child."

After Sophie gets her present, a little stuffed animal, she is given another treat, Starburst candy. Sophie can keep all six pieces for herself or give some back to the girl who gave her the present. Sophie is then given another six pieces of Starburst. This time she has to decide if she wants to keep it all or share the candy with another girl, one she has never met.

This study is only a few months in, but researchers are already seeing some patterns. "In this study when children were receiving the gifts very few of them, even the 3-year-olds, would keep everything for themselves," say Professor Blake. In Sophie's case, she split the candy right down the middle both times. A move that made her mom proud, "She's more excited to get one [a present] than give one, let's be true. But, she sees the joy in both," says Kate LeBlanc.

Professor Blake says whether the gift-giving was forced or voluntary doesn't seem to be making an impression on the kids just yet, "in both cases it seems like they were primed by this gift-giving experience to give more to someone else no matter who it was, the new child or old child." And typically the older kids were the most generous. The professor says that may have to do with the child's sense of reciprocity it's, "easier to understand. 'Oh you gave me something I give it back to you.'"

This research is part of the Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude project run by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley with funding from the John Templeton Foundation.

The lab is always looking for kids to participate in their research. For more information click here:

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