A study published in 2015 claimed children raised with religion were less generous — and it caught fire.
More than 80 media outlets covered the conclusions stated in "The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children's Altruism across the World," including the Economist, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and Scientific American, according to Psychology Today.
However, Azim Shariff — a religion and pro-social behavior expert — asked to review the data since his own work showed the opposite: that religious environments increased generosity, the magazine said.
And sure enough, there was an error in the way the data was analyzed — and the original findings went away upon reanalysis, Psychology Today noted.
And while Shariff published a paper on his findings the following year in the same journal — Current Biology — only four media outlets picked up on the corrected data, the magazine said. All the other outlets so hyped over the original story never ran with the amended information, Psychology Today added.
In fact, the magazine said articles just last month in Buzzworthy and TruthTheory cited the original paper saying religious children were less generous. Psychology Today said the study's "influence seems to continue even after it has been shown to be wrong."
But finally the study was retracted in August.
"When we reanalyzed these data to correct this error, we found that country of origin, rather than religious affiliation, is the primary predictor of several of the outcomes," the retraction read. "While our title finding that increased household religiousness predicts less sharing in children remains significant, we feel it necessary to explicitly correct the scientific record, and we are therefore retracting the article."
Psychology Today acknowledged that "correction mechanisms in science can sometimes work slowly, but they did, in the end, seem to be effective here. More work still needs to be done as to how this might translate into corrections in media reporting as well: The two articles above were both published after the formal retraction of the paper."
More from the magazine:
Our own research on the topic at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard, published last year in a paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology, has likewise suggested results more in line with Shariff's meta-analysis. Moreover, rather than looking at whether religious children are more or less generous as children, we examined how a religious upbringing shaped children over time from adolescence into young adulthood. We found that during childhood and adolescence, those who attended religious services regularly were subsequently 29 percent more likely to have high levels of volunteering than those who did not. Those who attended services regularly were also 87 percent more likely to subsequently have high levels of forgiveness; and those who prayed and mediated regularly were 47 percent more likely to have a high sense of mission. Again, the effects of a religious upbringing seemed to contribute to a greater generosity toward others many years later during young adulthood.
Our study also indicated that those who were raised religiously were also protected from what are sometimes called the "big three" dangers of adolescence: depression, drug use, and risky behaviors. They were also more likely to have higher levels happiness in young adulthood.