Social emotional learning has been shown to heighten academic success, ready students for the workplace, and help prevent risky behaviors such as substance abuse and violence. Furthermore, researchers at the Greater Good Science Center say social emotional learning cultivates in students an innate human altruism. Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley professor and author of Born to Be Good, asserts “based on research in psychology, sociology, and neuroscience that we are also wired for good.” If we are wired for good, the theory is we need simply to harness that desire to act based on that hard-wired good.
According to the Greater Good Science Center, much “compelling proof that we are wired for altruism, kindness, and compassion comes from numerous studies that demonstrate children as young as 14 months have innate altruistic tendencies, well before socialization can have a major influence on their development.” The Science Center cites 18-month olds who help other people without outside encouragement. In one case, seeing an adult who had his hand full of books, a toddler opened a cupboard for him.
Still other researchers found “toddlers’ happiness levels increased significantly when they gave away one of their own treats rather than a treat that belonged to another person.” Toddlers’ positive feelings were reinforced by their desire to share their belongings with their peers. It is a sort of cyclical effect of the desire to do good deeds for others engendering good feelings which then prompts the further desire to do more good deeds.
But how does this all tie back to social emotional learning? The development of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and empathy encourages children to bond with others in a meaningful way. According to the Greater Good Science Center, “fostering social and emotional skills helps to build classroom and school environments that bring out our innate altruism.” Cooperative learning environments that reinforce and normalize cooperative behaviors in children, in turn inspire children to carry these behaviors out into the world. In this process of bonding, children are likely to find the desire to share and to give, reinforcing what Keltner calls the hard-wired altruism that lies within us.