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The ontogeny of fairness in seven societies

Nature volume 528, pages 258261 (10 December 2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

A sense of fairness plays a critical role in supporting human cooperation1,2,3. Adult norms of fair resource sharing vary widely across societies, suggesting that culture shapes the acquisition of fairness behaviour during childhood4,5. Here we examine how fairness behaviour develops in children from seven diverse societies, testing children from 4 to 15 years of age (n = 866 pairs) in a standardized resource decision task6,7. We measured two key aspects of fairness decisions: disadvantageous inequity aversion (peer receives more than self) and advantageous inequity aversion (self receives more than a peer). We show that disadvantageous inequity aversion emerged across all populations by middle childhood. By contrast, advantageous inequity aversion was more variable, emerging in three populations and only later in development. We discuss these findings in relation to questions about the universality and cultural specificity of human fairness.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the following people for their help with this research: participating children, families, communities and schools; research assistants who collected and coded data; Harvard IQSS; J. Greene; P. Harris and our funding sources (Harvard Academy Junior Faculty Development Grant, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (F.W.); Herchel Smith Harvard Undergraduate Science Research Program (A.B.); Harvard College Research Program (H.V.); John Templeton Foundation (P.R.B.); Harvard Department of Human Evolutionary Biology (K.M.)).

Author information

Author notes

    • P. R. Blake
    •  & K. McAuliffe

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.

    • P. R. Blake
  2. Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.

    • K. McAuliffe
  3. Department of Psychology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02467, USA.

    • K. McAuliffe
  4. Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

    • K. McAuliffe
    • , A. Bowie
    • , E. Ross
    • , H. Vongsachang
    •  & R. Wrangham
  5. Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada.

    • J. Corbit
  6. Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology, St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia B2G 2W5, Canada.

    • T. C. Callaghan
  7. University of Cheikh Anta Diop, Faculty of Science and Technology for Education and Training, BP 5036 Dakar Fann, Senegal.

    • O. Barry
  8. Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

    • A. Bowie
    • , L. Kleutsch
    • , H. Vongsachang
    •  & F. Warneken
  9. Department of Anthropology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.

    • K. L. Kramer

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Contributions

P.R.B., K.M., and F.W. planned the study and performed the data analyses. P.R.B., K.M., J.C., T.C.C., O.B., A.B., L.K., K.L.K., E.R., H.V., R.W. and F.W. contributed to the research and writing the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to P. R. Blake or K. McAuliffe.

The data and code for the statistical analyses are stored in Dryad Data package title: The ontogeny of fairness in seven societies; http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.g3925.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary Tables 1-6 and Supplementary Figures 1-5 – see contents page for details.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature15703

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