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Singing their praises

Muscular Christianity always argued that sporting ideas of fair play improved a pupil's moral fibre. But a new study has revealed that children who sing in a choir are more likely to make good moral choices. The study, carried out by researchers at the Jubilee Centre (an academic unit at Birmingham University), involved 10,000 British children and 250 teachers. Teenagers were asked to take part in 'moral dilemma' tests in which they faced 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. These choices were then analysed against a list of options chosen by an expert panel. Preferable responses showed qualities such as honesty, self-discipline, courage and unselfishness. Overall just 42.6 per cent of the teenagers' responses matched the more moral options chosen by of the panel. Girls outperformed boys with a 47 per cent match compared with only 37 per cent. The researchers also analysed the teenagers' scores against their hobbies and interests, beliefs and backgrounds. Those who sang in 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. Drama groups delivered students who scored 14 per cent better on average while those involved in photography or art groups also fared better. Surprisingly to some, those involved in sports clubs or teams scored marginally worse than those who did not. The researchers noted: 'Despite a widely held public belief that sport builds character, this is not always supported in the philosophical and empirical literature. Arguments against sport as a character builder take the line that sport is a neutral domain, and qualities developed from this do not necessarily transfer to other domains.' Although the schools in which children scored most highly did not map onto social background or geography, the top school on the moral dilemma tests was a Roman Catholic academy in the midlands with two other Christian schools in the top seven.