So THAT’s Why Children are Selfish…

Research in psychology, human behavior, and sociology has yielded many a fascinating and sometimes hotly-disputed theory over the decades. So you can almost be forgiven for thinking you’re being hoodwinked when you read stuff like the following, especially on sites with names like Science Daily:

A new study suggests that age-associated improvements in the ability to consider the preferences of others are linked with maturation of a brain region involved in self control.

You have to give top marks for obfuscation, at any rate. Translation: children tend to be selfish because they (specifically their brains) are immature. Wonders may never cease, but it occurred to me that this fact did not need scientific investigation, on account of its being (begging pardon) a no-brainer.

The findings, published by Cell Press in the March 8 issue of the journal Neuron, may help to explain why young children often struggle to control selfish impulses, even when they know better, and could impact educational strategies designed to promote successful social behavior.

The really funny part is that “Science”, having discovered this previously unknown link between immaturity and selfishness, also proposes a pseudo-scientific solution. I kid you not. (And I’m still not sure I’m not being had. Does The Onion by any chance have a section for scientific reportage?)

“Our findings represent a critical advance in our understanding of the development of social behavior with far-reaching implications for educational policy and highlight the importance of helping children act on what they already know,” concludes Dr. Steinbeis. “Such interventions could set the foundation for increased altruism in the future.”

In other words, improved educational programs, earlier and earlier “early childhood intervention”, and ramped-up social engineering, underwritten by (what else) government funding and supported by (who else) teachers’ unions and post-graduate university faculties, will eventually succeed in training children to practice selflessness and become morally upright citizens.

Good luck with that. I’m betting my money (what’s left after taxes) on the old-fashioned idea that if kids are raised to be noble and generous by equally noble and generous families, that just might work too, and maybe even better.

Oh, and I have just one more question to ask the behavioral researchers. Since the (physiologically) undeveloped pre-adolescent brain is to blame for selfishness and lack of self-control, what’s the excuse for self-centered folks over the age of ten?

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  • Daria Sockey

    Good to see you here!
    As for those selfish folks over the age of ten, I guess they all began nurturing their inner child.

  • http://www.michaela-noel.com/ Marisa Pereira

    So after all this, can one logically deduce that if someone older than say 10-12 is selfish, there is possible brain impairment!? ;)

  • pnyikos

    This is a great piece of satire.  However, in fairness to the article, it does indicate that the  researchers have a hypothesis as to what part of the brain is responsible for the differences between selfish children and altruistic older children and adults:

    “left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a late-maturing brain region linked with self control”

    You would have to read the original article in “Neuron,” however, to find out whether the researchers actually measured the activity of this region, or whether they are merely speculating whether it is indeed the relevant part of the brain.

  • pnyikos

    Another Science Daily article, linked from  the one satirized here, undercuts the bombastic claims about “far-reaching iimplications” that Dr. Steinbeis talks about.

     http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070412115231.htm

    We learn here how Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a Distinguished University  Professor at Temple U., “suggests that competing systems within the brain make adolescents more
    susceptible to engaging in risky or dangerous behavior, and that
    educational interventions alone are unlikely to be effective.”

    Dr. Steinberg’s recommendations are quite different from those of Steinbeis:

    “Steinberg advocates stricter laws and policies that would limit
    opportunities for immature judgment that often have harmful
    consequences.”

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