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Altruistic Toddlers

October 2, 2018

The most helpful toddlers show empathy when they’re infants.

Transcript

An infant in the Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy neuroimaging lab. (Kathleen Krol)

An infant in the Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy neuroimaging lab. (Kathleen Krol)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Altruistic toddlers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Altruism is a cornerstone of cooperative human societies. Research has shown that empathetic people with highly altruistic tendencies tend to be especially attuned to images of others in distress. Now, researchers report in the journal PLOS Biology that these patterns may develop at a very early age. University of Virginia developmental neuroscientist Kathleen Krol says infants who paid more attention to fearful faces when they were seven months old were more likely to display helping behaviors once they became toddlers.

KATHLEEN KROL (University of Virginia):

Already in infancy humans are showing this tremendous capacity to help others, and more shockingly, they show a tremendous variability in this behavior.

HIRSHON:

Krol says says despite these differences, parents can help nurture empathy in their children by encouraging them to recognize when others are in distress. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard