Study questions whether children consider merit when sharing with others

Study questions whether children consider merit when sharing with others

What is a fair way to distribute goods? Should someone who worked more also receive more compensation? New research, published online PLoS One [29 Aug] and led by Patricia Kanngiesser from the University of Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology and Felix Warneken from Harvard University, suggests that young children already take merit into account when sharing things with others.

In the study three- and five-year-old children played a game with a puppet partner in which both partners collected coins. The coins could later be exchanged for stickers and children either contributed less or more coins than their partner.

At the end of the game, the researchers asked children to divide the reward-stickers between themselves and their partner. Surprisingly, three-year-olds already shared the stickers according to their own and the partner’s contribution.

Previous research on children’s sharing behaviours has found that young children often behave entirely selfishly and it was thus thought that children need complex reasonining skills or extensive socialisation to share fairly. This new research, however, questions this theory and suggests that fairness principles such as merit already guide early sharing behaviour.

The study, entitled ’Young Children Consider Merit when Sharing Resources with Others’, was published in the online journal PloS One on 29 August 2012.