Even kids won't help if others are around

Children as young as five are less likely to help a person in need when other children are present and available to help, new research shows.

IANS| Last Updated: Mar 25, 2015, 12:53 PM IST
Even kids won't help if others are around

London: Children as young as five are less likely to help a person in need when other children are present and available to help, new research shows.

"The children in our study helped at very high levels only when responsibility was clearly attributed to them," explained psychological scientist and lead researcher Maria Plotner of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that children at this age take responsibility into account when deciding whether to help.

Just like adults, children show the "bystander effect" which is most likely driven by a diffusion of responsibility when multiple bystanders are available to help someone in need.

Previous research has shown that children are generally very helpful, but few studies had specifically looked at whether the presence of others affects this helping behaviour.

To find out, Plotner and colleagues recruited 60 five-year-olds to participate in the study.

The children were told that they will choose a picture and colour it.

Before the colouring started, Plotner noticed a water puddle and she wiped it up with paper towels.

She left the remaining paper towels on the floor, just "in case something needs to be wiped up later."

After about half a minute of colouring time, the researcher "accidentally" knocked over her cup of coloured water.

She tried to hold the water back with her arms and, after about 15 seconds, she looked at the water, said "oops," and groaned.

The researcher made increasingly more obvious displays of distress and, eventually, if no one had helped her, she asked the children to retrieve the paper towels on the floor for her.

And if no one helped after 90 seconds, the researcher retrieved the paper towels herself.

The data revealed a very clear pattern of findings: The children were less likely to get the paper towels for the researcher when other children were present and available to help.

If the other children were unavailable for helping (because their path to the researcher was obstructed), however, the participants were just as likely to retrieve the paper towels as participants who were alone with the researcher.

The results show that the "bystander" effect is evident in children as young as five.