​Promoting Altruism in Children
TWCF Number
Project Duration
December 30 / 2016
- December 29 / 2018
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded
Grant DOI*

* A Grant DOI (digital object identifier) is a unique, open, global, persistent and machine-actionable identifier for a grant.

Andrew Meltzoff
Institution University of Washington

How do we develop moral intelligence?

Although altruism is a popular research topic in biological and social sciences, much research remains to be done about the origins of moral intelligence. This project investigates how childhood experiences shape the human mind and its capacities for altruism. In doing so, it seeks to help develop methods for fostering and enhancing ethical choices and behaviors.

Over a two-year period, we plan to conduct four converging experiments that involve 24-month-old children. The work will examine the following questions:

1. How can reciprocal play—a specific aspect of a child’s everyday life—encourage the spread of altruism across contexts in children?
2. How might reciprocal play maintain altruism over time?
3. Does the mere observation of reciprocal exchanges encourage altruism?
4. Do other types of similar play show similar effects?

The research program addresses both theory and practice. At a theoretical level, we expect this work to develop an understanding of the origins of altruism. At a broader and more practical level, we expect it will help scientists make recommendations and disseminate information about this foundational topic to parents, early educators, and policymakers. By engaging the public, we plan to promote the importance of fostering moral intelligence in childhood.

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Experts on child development investigate how early experiences shape human minds and values. Their research seeks to develop ways to foster and enhance altruism.

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