University of Chicago-based Professor Jean Dacety admitted there were errors in a report entitled The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World which was published in The Current Biology Journal four years ago.
He had claimed that religious affiliation plays a bigger role in how generous children were. He initially claimed that children with devout parents exhibit less altruistic behavior.
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Professor Decety said the results showed country of origin, rather than religious affiliation, played a bigger role in how generous children were. He added that the findings suggested they may inflict harsher punishments on people, if given the opportunity.
The Professor failed to control for the variation in the subjects’ countries in his paper. But after reexamining his paper after a slew of scientists heaped pressure on him by criticising the research method, Professor Decety backpedalled his claims.
He said, “We found that country of origin, rather than religious affiliation, is the primary predictor of several of the outcomes.”
The error in the scientists’ method was to treat each country as a single continuous variable, which meant that they were not controlled. Each country was given a number code, for example, Canada was 1, the US was 2.
These codes were supposed to be meaningless, but in their calculations the scientists treated them as variables, meaning the US was double the value of Canada. This significantly skewed the results.
It was only after scientists heaped pressure on him by criticising the research method, that Professor Decety acknowledged a flaw in the study.
More than 1,000 children aged between five and 12 from the US, Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa, and China formed the sample. The research selected children from these countries because it provided an eclectic mix of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and non-religious people.
To ensure religious upbringing, and not one’s country, was the independent variable, Professor Decety and team had to control for their participants’ nationalities. But shortly after the paper was published, Dr Azim Shariff, based at the University of California, noted that this had not been done correctly.
The countries had been coded from one to six, but they were treated as a single categorical variables so, for example, Canada – coded two – was twice as much as the US, which was coded one.
He had initially measured altruism in the children via a version of the ‘Dictator Game’ in which they were given 10 stickers and provided an opportunity to share them with another unseen child. This retraction came only a year after a Psychological Medicine journal paper exploring psychopathic traits in prisoners which Professor Decety co-authored was also withdrawn.
After reexamining the study after receiving backlash and pressure from several psychologists that there were errors on how the data have been collected, Professor Dacety retracted his claims, saying, “We found that country of origin, rather than religious affiliation, is the primary predictor of a child’s altruistic behavior.”