"No Fair!": An Investigation of Children's Development of Fairness

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-7274-5971
Yucel, Nazli Meltem, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Vaish, Amrisha, AS-Psychology, University of Virginia

Fairness is an important evolutionary concern. However, little is known about the extent to which children perceive fairness as a moral vs. a conventional norm. Through five studies with children and adults, this work establishes how children understand fairness norms, how children’s fairness understanding changes with age, and the role of harm in the moralization of fairness norm. Across a series of studies, 4-year-olds rated moral transgressions (e.g., hitting) as more serious than fairness and conventional transgressions (e.g., wearing pajamas to school), but importantly, they rated fairness and conventional transgressions as similarly serious. In contrast, 6- and 8-year-olds and young adults rated moral transgressions as more serious than fairness and conventional transgressions, and fairness as more serious than conventional transgressions. An additional, forced-choice procedure revealed that most 6-year-olds also categorized fairness with moral rather than conventional transgressions; 4- and 8-year-olds’ responses did not show systematic patterns. Conversely, young adults categorized fairness with conventional rather than moral transgressions. This is the first evidence that children may not equate norms of fairness in resource distribution with harm-based moral norms, even into middle childhood and adulthood. Understanding how children perceive, when children perceive, and why children perceive fairness as a moral or conventional norm, could help us better understand how fairness is conceptualized. This, in turn, can help us implement policies that can support children’s social-moral development.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
conventional norms, fairness, inequality, moral development, moral norms
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: