​Altruism in Human Infants
TWCF Number
Project Duration
March 1 / 2021
- February 28 / 2023
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

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Andrew N. Meltzoff
Institution University of Washington

Altruism holds human civilization together. In 2020, University of Washington researchers Andrew Meltzoff, Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, and Rechele Brooks published a paper exploring the roots of altruism in human infants through several experiments. The study found that human infants, even when hungry, will give away desirable, high-value food to a begging stranger. This spontaneous giving of high-value foods to strangers has not been demonstrated in chimpanzees, and thus the findings provide clues to potentially distinctive aspects of human altruism.

Replication studies are invaluable in the behavioral sciences, particularly when important claims—like those in the paper—are at stake. In this project, the team will conduct two pre-registered replications of this work.

The first proposed replication study will be pre-registered using the same procedure and demographic sample as the original report. The second study will replicate a different and equally important aspect of the team’s recent paper. Using post-hoc exploratory analyses, the team found increased helping behavior from infants who have siblings or were reared by parents with “interdependent” cultural backgrounds. The second study will replicate a more diverse sample than the original paper. Crucially, this study will be pre-registered with firm predictions, a scientifically necessary follow-up to the reported exploratory analysis.

These rigorous studies will advance the scientific understanding of human infants’ capacity for altruism.

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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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