Religion makes people more generous and empathetic toward their neighbor, right? Wrong, according to a study published Thursday in Current Biology. Forbes reports researchers found children from religious backgrounds are actually less altruistic than children from secular households. Researchers tested more than 1,100 Christian, Muslim, and nonreligious children between the ages of 5 and 12 from around the world. They gave the kids stickers and had them choose how many to share with another anonymous child. It turns out secular children shared more of their stickers. "Our findings support the notion that the secularization of moral discourse does not reduce human kindness," lead researcher Jean Decety tells Science. "In fact it does just the opposite."
But the relationship between religion and altruism in children was even more pronounced than that. Science reports the more religious a child's household—based on interviews with parents—the less generous the child. And while all kids shared fewer stickers as they got older, the difference was even more pronounced in kids from religious households, according to Forbes. Decety says the differences may be because of something called "moral licensing," in which an individual—unconsciously or not—feels like they can behave badly because they see themselves as a morally right person, Science reports. "These results reveal…how religion negatively influences children’s altruism, challenging the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior," researchers conclude in the study. (Read more religion stories.)