New Study Finds That Young Children Endorse Fairness, but Often Don’t Practice What They Preach

Article ID: 600796

Released: 25-Mar-2013 9:00 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: Boston University College of Arts and Sciences

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Newswise — A new study co-authored by Boston University Assistant Professor of Psychology Peter Blake finds that young children endorse fairness norms related to sharing, but often act in contradiction to those norms when given a chance to share. The article, titled “I Should but I Won’t: Why Young Children Endorse Norms of Fair Sharing but Do Not Follow Them,” was published this week in the journal Plos ONE (see below for citation and link).

This phenomenon has rarely been explored in the context of a single study. Using a novel approach, the researchers presented clear evidence of this discrepancy and go on to examine possible explanations for its diminution with age. In one part of the study, three-to-eight-year-old children readily stated that they themselves should share equally, asserted that others should as well, and predicted that others had shared equally with them. Nevertheless, children failed to engage in equal sharing until ages seven to eight.

In another part of the study, seven-to-eight-year-olds correctly predicted that they would share equally, and three-to-six-year-olds correctly predicted that they would favor themselves, ruling out a failure-of-willpower explanation for younger children's behavior. Similarly, a test of inhibitory control failed to explain the shift with age toward adherence to the endorsed norm. The data suggest that, although three-year-olds know the norm of equal sharing, the weight that children attach to this norm increases with age when sharing involves a cost to the self.

About Boston University—Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience with a global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research. In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

Citation: Smith CE, Blake PR, Harris PL (2013) I Should but I Won’t: Why Young Children Endorse Norms of Fair Sharing but Do Not Follow Them. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59510. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059510

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