5 year olds are generous only when they're watched

October 31, 2012

Children as young as five are generous when others are aware of their actions, but antisocial when sharing with a recipient who can't see them, according to research published Oct. 31 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Kristin Lyn Leimgruber and colleagues from Yale University.

Adults are more likely to behave in ways that enhance their when they are being watched or their actions are likely to be made public than when they are anonymous, but this study examines the origins of such behavior in young children for the first time. For their study, the researchers presented five year olds with stickers and gave them the option of sharing one or four stickers with another five year old. The authors found that children were more generous when they could see the recipient than when the recipient was hidden from view, and were also more generous when they had to give stickers in a transparent container rather than an opaque one (meaning the recipient could see what they were receiving). They also found that these behaviors were independent of how many stickers the children were given to keep for themselves.

According to the authors, these results show that children as young as five can make strategic choices about whether to be generous, depending on whether or not a recipient is aware of their actions. Leimgruber explains, "Although the frequency with which children acted antisocially is striking, the conditions under which they chose to act generously are even more interesting and suggest that children likely use much more sophisticated prosocial strategies than we previously assumed. Much like the patterns of we see in adults, donation tendencies in children appear to be driven by the amount of information available to others about their actions— for both adults and , the more others know about their actions, the more likely they are to act generously."

More information: Leimgruber KL, Shaw A, Santos LR, Olson KR (2012) Young Children Are More Generous when Others Are Aware of Their Actions. PLOS ONE 7(10):e48292. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048292

Related Stories

Recommended for you

How language gives your brain a break

August 3, 2015

Here's a quick task: Take a look at the sentences below and decide which is the most effective. (1) "John threw out the old trash sitting in the kitchen." (2) "John threw the old trash sitting in the kitchen out."

Neural efficiency hypothesis confirmed

July 27, 2015

One of the big questions intelligence researchers grapple with is just how differences in intelligence are reflected in the human brain. Researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded in studying further details relating to suspected ...

How does color blindness affect color preferences?

July 21, 2015

(Medical Xpress)—Dichromacy is a color vision defect in which one of the three types of cone photoreceptors is missing. The condition is hereditary and sex-linked, mostly affecting males. Although researchers have explored ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PJS
not rated yet Nov 01, 2012
not to be snarky, but anyone with kids could have told you this

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.