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Study on sharing shows influence of social norms in selfish and generous decision-making

September 23, 2019
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Tanya Broesch, Department of Psychology, 604-369-0128; tanya_broesch@sfu.ca (best availability is after 3 pm today)

Marianne Meadahl, Communications and Marketing, 778-782-9017; Marianne_Meadahl@sfu.c

A child’s desire to share becomes influenced by social norms around the age of eight, a new study involving Simon Fraser University researchers reveals.
 
The researchers established the sharing patterns of adults in eight diverse global societies, and then worked with children from the same communities to determine how they would split a set of rewards in an experimental sharing task.Their study results are published today in Nature Human Behaviour.
 
Children were given a choice between a generous option, which delivered one reward to them and one reward to a stranger, and a selfish option, which delivered both rewards to the child.
 
Children under seven largely opted for the selfish choice, while between the ages of eight and 12, children in some societies increasingly shared one of the tokens, as children began to follow the usual adult pattern of behaviour in their community. 
 
At about the same age, children in all societies also began to more strongly respond to social norms: they shared more when told that the generous option was “right”, and they shared less when they were told that the selfish option was “right.” The research suggests children become sensitive during middle childhood to culturally-specific information about how to behave.
 
SFU psychology professor Tanya Broesch and her former graduate student Dr. Senay Cebioglu traveled to Tanna, Vanuatu, an island in the South Pacific. Using a series of experiments, they examined children's sharing behaviour and social norms. Families on Tanna have been hosting Broesch and Cebioglu for more than seven years as they study caregiving practices and socialization. 

The study, led by researchers at York University and involving others from the U.S., U.K., Spain and Germany, also looked at rural regions in Ecuador and Argentina, and at hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. Urban studies included communities in the U.S., Argentina, Germany and India.
 
The researchers conclude that it is important to not only pay attention to what children know, but why they start to follow social norms. Their goal is to improve our understanding of the role of culture and psychological maturation in diversifying how we cooperate.

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