Kids grasp that you get what you pay for

June 19, 2018, University of Michigan
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

From a young age, children have a nuanced understanding of fairness.

New University of Michigan research indicates that children as young as 5 incorporate market concerns—the idea that what you get is in line with what you give or offer—into their , and increasingly do so with age.

Some people think children are innately selfish—they want to get goodies for themselves. Other people think children are innately altruistic—they care about helping others. Most people think children are both.

"The trick is knowing when and how to balance self interest and concern for others—what is appropriate in different circumstances," said lead author Margaret Echelbarger, a recent U-M psychology doctoral graduate.

By studying how children engage in different types of exchanges, researchers can discern the origins of these behaviors, as well as their developmental course.

"This in turn tells us a bit more about ourselves as adults," Echelbarger said.

The U-M research included 195 children ages 5-10 and 60 adults helping a giver distribute stickers to friends. They distributed stickers equally between friends when offers were the same, but unequally when different offers were made.

There were times when the participants distributed more stickers to the friends offering more money, which meant children—as they aged—were willing to abandon equal norms for distribution. More specifically, distributed more stickers to friends who paid more even when the other wanted to pay but couldn't.

"These findings are especially interesting in light of young children's limited exposure to market/economic instruction," Echelbarger said. "We show that, from a young age, children are developing an understanding of the 'rules' of market exchanges."

Echelbarger and colleagues also found that children are sensitive to the reasons underlying the different offers. Children penalize recipients refusing to pay more than recipients willing but unable to pay, she said.

The findings, which appear in Child Development, are also consistent with prior research that incorporate equity concerns, such as merit and need, into their distribution decisions.

Explore further: Moral development: children become more caring and inclusive as they age

More information: Margaret Echelbarger et al. Getting What You Pay For: Children's Use of Market Norms to Regulate Exchanges, Child Development (2018). DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13088

Related Stories

Moral development: children become more caring and inclusive as they age

June 12, 2018
Schools track and nurture the academic development of children, measuring literacy and numeracy against a bell curve. But what about children's moral development? A new study has found this also develops over time, and there's ...

Why do children tattle?

April 5, 2018
When young children see a peer cause harm, they often tattle to a caregiver. But why do children tattle? A new Social Development study reveals that even when children cannot be blamed for a transgression, they tattle about ...

Why children with autism may be at risk of bullying

May 3, 2018
Children with autism may be at risk from bullying because they are more willing to accept unfair behaviour say psychologists.

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 ...

Developmental psychology: Friendship wins out over fairness

February 29, 2016
When children decide to share, the giver's relationships with the pool of recipients determine who gets how much. They will give more to a wealthy friend than to a needy stranger - at least in cases where wealth is measured ...

When it comes to understanding fairness, young children get it

September 14, 2012
Most parents like to believe that their children are more intelligent and insightful than the average person realizes. When it comes to concepts of fairness, they might be right, according to Harvard researchers.

Recommended for you

Perfectionism in young children may indicate OCD risk

July 19, 2018
Studying young children, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that kids who possess tendencies toward perfectionism and excessive self-control are twice as likely as other children to ...

Finding well-being through an aerial, as opposed to ground-level, view of time

July 19, 2018
Do today and yesterday and tomorrow loom large in your thinking, with the more distant past and future barely visible on the horizon? That's not unusual in today's time-pressed world—and it seems a recipe for angst.

Younger children tend to make more informed decisions

July 19, 2018
A new study from the University of Waterloo has found that in some ways, the older you get the worse your decision making becomes.

Are you prone to feeling guilty? Then you're probably more trustworthy, study shows

July 19, 2018
It turns out your mother was right: guilt is a powerful motivator.

Using an electronic device counteracts benefits of taking a break in nature, researchers find

July 19, 2018
Being in nature helps restore your brain's ability to focus attention on a task. But if you are checking social media on your phone or answering emails on your laptop – even if you are doing so while surrounded by trees ...

Depression-induced inflammation during pregnancy may impact newborns

July 18, 2018
The physiological impacts of depression on pregnant mothers may affect babies while in the womb and lead to changes in the behaviour and biology of newborns, finds new King's College London research.

0 comments

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.