Children who sing in a choir, play in an orchestra or take to the stage are more likely to make good moral choices than their fellow classmates, a study has concluded.
But contrary to belief that sport promotes ideas of fair play and team spirit, the research concluded that playing games does nothing to strengthen people’s moral fibre.
Meanwhile those who go to church or other religious observances regularly emerged more likely to fare better in the face of moral dilemmas than their peers who do not.
And those whose parents have a higher level of education, or who achieve good grades themselves, are also likely to demonstrate moral virtues such as honesty and self-discipline than others.
The project also found that eight in 10 teachers fear that moral development of children is being squeezed out of schools by the relentless pressure of exams.
The findings emerge from a study involving 10,000 British children and 250 teachers carried out by researchers at the Jubilee Centre, an academic unit at Birmingham University dedicated to studying issues such as “character education”.
As part of the research a sample of children aged 14 and 15 from across Britain were asked to take part in “moral dilemma” tests in which they are faced with a series of detailed scenarios and a choice of what to do.
In each case they were given a range of possible responses and then asked to select one as well as giving a reason for their choice.
Those choices were then compared against a list of “preferred options” chosen by an expert panel based on whether they showed qualities such as honesty, self-discipline, courage and an overall lack of self-interest.
Overall only 42.6 per cent of the teenagers’ responses matched the more moral options chosen by of the panel.
Girls far outperformed boys with a 47 per cent match compared with only 37 per cent.
Notably, the results also lagged behind those in comparable studies in other countries such as Taiwan where children achieved a 53 per cent match and the US with 49 per cent but well ahead of those in Macedonia.
But the researchers also analysed the teenagers’ scores in the moral dilemma based on other information they had given about their hobbies and interests, beliefs and backgrounds.
Overall those who were members of choirs or took part in other musical activities outside school were 17 per cent more likely to choose the more moral options than those who did not. Similarly those involved in drama groups outside school scored 14 per cent better on average while those involved in photography or art groups also fared better.
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