Being fair: The benefits of early child education

November 20, 2018, University of Montreal
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Children from low-income families who got intensive education early in life treat others with high levels of fairness in midlife, more than 40 years later, even when being fair comes at a high personal cost, according to a new study published today in Nature Communications.

The 78 people in the study were followed as part of the Abecedarian Project, begun in the 1970s and to this day one of the longest running randomized controlled studies of the effects of early childhood in low-income and high-risk families.

Participants played games designed to measure their adherence to social norms and their social decision-making processes. In one game, a player was asked to split a sum of money - $20 -with another participant. The participant could either accept the amount proposed, or reject it, in which case neither received any money. When faced with unequal offers, participants had to make trade-offs between self-interest and the enforcement of social norms of equality.

This is where the value of early childhood education became apparent. Players who, in the 1970s, had been given intensive educational training including cognitive and social stimulation when they were young children, strongly rejected unequal division of money among players when they were in midlife, even if it meant they would miss out on hefty financial gains themselves.

"When someone rejects an offer, they are sending a very strong signal to the other player about the decision regarding how the money should be divided," said Université de Montréal assistant psychology professor Sébastien Hétu, a first-author of the study. "People who received educational training through the Abecedarian Project were inclined to accept generally equal offers, but would reject disadvantageous and advantageous offers. In effect, they punished transgressions that they judged to be outside of the social norm of equality."

Originally developed and led by Craig Ramey, a professor and distinguished research scholar at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, the Abecedarian Project investigates the impacts of intensive early childhood educational interventions on language and learning in disadvantaged children. The new research involves an international group of scientists led by Virginia Tech neuroscientist Read Montague, in whose laboratory Hétu was a postdoctoral associate before coming to Montreal.? 

Using computational modeling, the study's researchers also discovered differences in social decision-making strategies between participants. For example, in another game, who had received educational interventions early in life planned further into the future than people who didn't.

"The who received early educational interventions were very sensitive to inequality, whether it was to their advantage or their disadvantage," said Yi Luo, first author of the study and a postdoctoral associate in Montague's lab. "Our results also suggest that they placed more value on the long-term benefits of promoting as opposed to short-term benefits for personal gain."

She concluded: "Our research shows that investment in early childhood education, especially in the education of highly vulnerable children from , can produce long-term effects in decision-making even decades after the educational experience."

Explore further: Benefits of high quality child care persist 30 years later: research

More information: Yi Luo et al, Early childhood investment impacts social decision-making four decades later, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07138-5

Related Stories

Benefits of high quality child care persist 30 years later: research

January 19, 2012
Adults who participated in a high quality early childhood education program in the 1970s are still benefiting from their early experiences in a variety of ways, according to a new study.

Graduates of early childhood program show greater educational gains as adults

January 29, 2018
Students who participated in an intensive childhood education program from preschool to third grade were more likely to achieve an academic degree beyond high school, compared to a similar group that received other intervention ...

Investigating cooperation during social interaction in schizophrenia

September 27, 2018
People spend much of their time within social groups but those with schizophrenia commonly describe difficulty with trusting others. Using a public goods game to study social interactions in individuals with the disorder, ...

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 ...

Recommended for you

Length of eye blinks might act as conversational cue

December 12, 2018
Blinking may feel like an unconscious activity, but new research by Paul Hömke and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, suggests that humans unknowingly perceive eye blinks as nonverbal cues when ...

How bullying affects the brain

December 12, 2018
New research from King's College London identifies a possible mechanism that shows how bullying may influence the structure of the adolescent brain, suggesting the effects of constantly being bullied are more than just psychological.

Increased motor activity linked to improved mood

December 12, 2018
Increasing one's level of physical activity may be an effective way to boost one's mood, according to a new study from a team including scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the ...

High-dose antipsychotics place children at increased risk of unexpected death

December 12, 2018
Children and young adults without psychosis who are prescribed high-dose antipsychotic medications are at increased risk of unexpected death, despite the availability of other medications to treat their conditions, according ...

What social stress in monkeys can tell us about human health

December 11, 2018
Research in recent years has linked a person's physical or social environment to their well-being. Stress wears down the body and compromises the immune system, leaving a person more vulnerable to illnesses and other conditions. ...

You make decisions quicker and based on less information than you think

December 11, 2018
We live in an age of information. In theory, we can learn everything about anyone or anything at the touch of a button. All this information should allow us to make super-informed, data-driven decisions all the time.

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.