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Egalitarianism in young children

Nature volume 454, pages 10791083 (28 August 2008) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Human social interaction is strongly shaped by other-regarding preferences, that is, a concern for the welfare of others. These preferences are important for a unique aspect of human sociality—large scale cooperation with genetic strangers—but little is known about their developmental roots. Here we show that young children’s other-regarding preferences assume a particular form, inequality aversion that develops strongly between the ages of 3 and 8. At age 3–4, the overwhelming majority of children behave selfishly, whereas most children at age 7–8 prefer resource allocations that remove advantageous or disadvantageous inequality. Moreover, inequality aversion is strongly shaped by parochialism, a preference for favouring the members of one’s own social group. These results indicate that human egalitarianism and parochialism have deep developmental roots, and the simultaneous emergence of altruistic sharing and parochialism during childhood is intriguing in view of recent evolutionary theories which predict that the same evolutionary process jointly drives both human altruism and parochialism.

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Acknowledgements

This paper is part of the Research Priority Program ‘Foundations of Human Social Behaviour—Altruism versus Egoism’ at the University of Zurich and of the Swiss National Competence Center in research on affective sciences, which is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation. We also thank N. Kessler for her research assistance during the conduct of the experiments.

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Affiliations

  1. University of Zurich, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, Blumlisalpstrasse 10, CH-8006 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Ernst Fehr
    •  & Helen Bernhard
  2. Collegium Helveticum, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Ernst Fehr
  3. University of Erfurt, Nordhäuser Straße 63, D-99089 Erfurt, Germany

    • Bettina Rockenbach

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Correspondence to Ernst Fehr or Bettina Rockenbach.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07155

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