Fairness Takes Time: Development of Cooperative Decision-making in Childhood

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0003-2703-8378
Chajes, Johanna, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Grossmann, Tobias, AS-Psychology, University of Virginia
Vaish, Amrisha, AS-Psychology, University of Virginia

Cooperation based on fairness is a key feature of human social behavior. The current study examined the development and cognitive characteristics of this capacity in childhood. Furthermore, we used a developmental perspective to examine a central argument of the intuitive cooperation hypothesis, which is that fast, intuitive decisions are likely to result in more cooperative choices. A large sample of children (N = 94), ranging from 4 to 9 years of age, were presented with a novel cooperative decision-making task contrasting fair with selfish choices while measuring reaction times. Our results show that fairness increases during childhood, with selfish choices seen frequently in younger children (4 to 6 years) and fair choices seen frequently in older children (7 to 9 years). Moreover, our reaction time results show that younger children’s predominantly selfish choices are fast and intuitive and their rare fair choices are slow and deliberate, whereas reaction times did not differ as a function of choice in older children. In addition, we found that an increase in reaction time was generally associated with a higher inhibitory control score, but children’s inhibitory control did not relate to fairness choices during the cooperative decision-making task. These findings stand in contrast to previous work arguing for the fast and intuitive nature of cooperative choices in adults and helping behavior in infants. Together, the current data provide insights into the emergence of fairness behavior, pointing to a protracted development likely requiring extensive learning and experience.

MA (Master of Arts)
Development, Cooperation, Fairness
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