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The one thing poor kids do better than rich kids

Poor children may not have much, but they're willing to share.

A new study from researchers at the University of California found this week that poor children are more likely than those from wealthier families to help those in need, The Telegraph reported.

The study found specifically that 4-year-olds from less well-off families helped classmates more than those who come from wealthy families.

"It means we might be wired from a young age to derive a sense of safety from providing care for others,” said Jonas Miller, the lead researcher. "Our findings suggest that fostering altruistic tendencies might be one path to promoting better health and well-being for all children."

To find this, researchers held an experiment where 74 children played games that earned tokens they could later cash in for prizes. After playing the games, researchers told the children that they could cash the tokens in for prizes or donate the tokens to ill children who couldn’t participate in the study.

“Children from less wealthy parents donated the most, suggesting they were more altruistic than their better off peers,” The Telegraph reported.

Miller said wealthy children may give less because their parents unknowingly pass on conservative and money-saving traits. This fits with a Stanford University study that found altruism isn’t innate and that altruistic behavior “may be governed more by relationships,” like family ties or friendships.

But research in the past decade has embraced the idea that children are altruistic from a young age. For example, a 2011 study from the University of Washington found that a basic sense of altruism can develop in children as young as 15 months. The study involved giving bowls of crackers to 15-month-olds and seeing how often they were concerned about how much food another baby had in their bowl.

"The infants expected an equal and fair distribution of food, and they were surprised to see one person given more crackers or milk than the other," said Jessica Sommerville, the leader of the study, according to Science Daily.

A similar report in 2006 from NBC News that found babies are altruistic from as young as 16 months. Researchers found kids were eager to pick up clothespins that had been dropped without being instructed to do so, NBC News reported.

This may be because altruism comes naturally to humans. Stanford University psychologist Michael Tomasello said in 2008 that youngsters start to develop altruistic behavior because it is an innate trait unique to humans. In other words, we're born to help other humans.

"From when they first begin to walk and talk and become truly cultural beings, young human children are naturally cooperative and helpful in many — though obviously not all — situations," Tomasello said. ”And they do not get this from adults; it comes naturally."

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret News National. Send him an email at hscribner@deseretdigital.com or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.