​Promoting Altruism in Children

Professor Andrew Meltzoff
University of Washington

Project Summary

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.


Project Details

Project Duration

30 December 201629 December 2018

Core Funding Area

Big Questions


Diverse Intelligences

Region of Activity

North America

TWCF Number


Amount Awarded



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