John Corbit, PhD student, SFU psychology


Study tracks the development of fairness in children

November 18, 2015

SFU psychology PhD student John Corbit and a team of researchers have found that culture plays an important role in the perception of fairness among children, adding an important insight to the little-understood developmental origins of human fairness.

The study, published today in Nature, looks at children's aversion to two forms of inequity: advantageous (having more than a peer) and idisadvantageous inequity (having less than a peer) in seven diverse societies.  

In the study, researchers used a standardized resource-decision task where children were presented with distributions of food that placed them at either a relative advantage or disadvantage to a peer. Participants then had the option to accept or reject these distributions, allowing researchers measure the children's aversion to inqueitied based on their refusal of unequal offers.

Researchers found American, Canadian, Indian, Peruvian, Senegalese, Mexican and Ugandan children all showed, by middle childhood, an aversion towards disadvantageous inequity, suggesting it is a general tendency of children. However, there was variability in the age when the aversion first emerges, leading researchers to link its development to cultural input.

When it comes to advantageous inequity aversion, which goes against immediate self-interest, culture appears to play an even larger role. Out of the seven societies, aversion only emerged in Canadian, American and Ugandan children.

“From early on and across societies, we do not like receiving fewer resources than a peer,” says Corbit. “But in some societies, around middle childhood, we extend this concern for fairness to others and will reject resource allocations that put ourselves at an advantage relative to a peer.

“These findings highlight the important role of culture in the development of children's fairness, especially in the emergence of advantageous inequity aversion.”

Corbit adds the ability for societies to function successfully depends on cooperation between individuals and one of the factors that contribute to human cooperation is our sense of fairness.

“Understanding the developmental and cultural processes that lead to a sense of fairness in young children will ultimately help people such as adults, parents, teachers, policy makers gain insight into enhancing cooperative behaviour when it is needed.”