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I Should but I Won’t: Why Young Children Endorse Norms of Fair Sharing but Do Not Follow Them
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Author: Craig E. Smith et al.

by Craig E. Smith, Peter R. Blake, Paul L. Harris

Young children endorse fairness norms related to sharing, but often act in contradiction to those norms when given a chance to share. This phenomenon has rarely been explored in the context of a single study. Using a novel approach, the research presented here offers clear evidence of this discrepancy and goes on to examine possible explanations for its diminution with age. In Study 1, 3–8-year-old children readily stated that they themselves should share equally, asserted that others should as well, and predicted that others had shared equally with them. Nevertheless, children failed to engage in equal sharing until ages 7–8. In Study 2, 7–8-year-olds correctly predicted that they would share equally, and 3–6-year-olds correctly predicted that they would favor themselves, ruling out a failure-of-willpower explanation for younger children's behavior. Similarly, a test of inhibitory control in Study 1 also failed to explain the shift with age toward adherence to the endorsed norm. The data suggest that, although 3-year-olds know the norm of equal sharing, the weight that children attach to this norm increases with age when sharing involves a cost to the self.
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