Fairness in Distributive Justice by 3- and 5-Year-Olds Across Seven Cultures

Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 40 (3):416-442 (2009)
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This research investigates 3- and 5-year-olds' relative fairness in distributing small collections of even or odd numbers of more or less desirable candies, either with an adult experimenter or between two dolls. The authors compare more than 200 children from around the world, growing up in seven highly contrasted cultural and economic contexts, from rich and poor urban areas, to small-scale traditional and rural communities. Across cultures, young children tend to optimize their own gain, not showing many signs of self-sacrifice or generosity. Already by 3 years of age, self-optimizing in distributive justice is based on perspective taking and rudiments of mind reading. By 5 years, overall, children tend to show more fairness in sharing. What varies across cultures is the magnitude of young children's self-interest. More fairness (less self-interest) in distributive justice is evident by children growing up in small-scale urban and traditional societies thought to promote more collective values.

Author's Profile

Claudia Passos-Ferreira
New York University


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