Socializing children to act in more loving ways towards others might in the end be what changes our cultures to be more peaceful and benign towards each other, a study published this Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows.
12 cultural groups across the world have been studied, and the responses in the participating children are universal. When they are faced with a threat and believe there to be a hostile intention from someone, it is highly likely that they’ll respond with aggression in return.
These clear indications of how kids facing threats responds to those situations in many cultures, could simply be the answer to dealing with long-standing conflicts of a large scale between different groups of people, for example the Arab-Israeli clash, but also the constant racial-based negative actions and attitudes in both the United States and in many other countries.
Kenneth A. Dodge, director of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University and also lead author of this study, explains the process: “Our study identifies a major psychological process that leads a child to commit violence. Our research also indicates that cultures differ in their tendencies to socialize children to become defensive this way, and those differences account for why some cultures have children who act more aggressively than other cultures. It points towards the need to change how we socialize our children, to become more benign and more forgiving and less defensive. It will make our children less aggressive and our society more peaceful.”
The children who interpreted an act towards themselves as hostile, were five times more likely to respond with aggression than those who found the action to be non-hostile. One of the scenarios that the researchers presented the kids with included that they were to be pushed from behind by someone, leading to themselves stepping in a puddle of water.
What was the most stunning part of the study results, was how the link between cultures with the highest rates of hostile attributional bias at the same time was found to have the highest rates of child aggressive behavior problems, where places such as Zarqa in Jordan and Naples in Italy were examples of this. At the other end of the scale they found for example Trollhättan in Sweden and Jinan in China, where they had the lowest rates of each parameter respectively.
This whole realization of how we raise our children to look at the world around them and at other people and how it’s all linked to how they choose to behave in situations later in life, might lead to large attitude revisions on both personal and cultural levels – how responsible are people as both individuals and in groups for how entire countries are choosing to act when a threat is believed to exist? How real is that threat, and what would be the most beneficial response to the situation?
Dodge continues by suggesting that we could all need to add a little nuance to the basic wisdom in the Golden Rule: “Not only should we teach our children to do unto others as we would have them do not ourselves, but also to think about others as we would have them think about us.”
He continues this conclusion by claiming that teaching our children to give others the benefit of the doubt will help them grow up to be less aggressive as parents, as well as less anxious and more competent.
Finding loving answers in science is always welcome, and especially in cases like these, involving how people in all cultures are raising their little ones, to either see others as hostile and potential threats to their well-being, or rather to see others as people just like themselves, just wanting to have a good life and share that joy with others, not expecting all things to be intended as a way to hurt them.
Image: U.S. Navy