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10 April 2014 11:44 am ,
Vol. 344 ,
Tight budgets are forcing NASA to consider turning off one or more planetary science projects that have completed their...
Ebola is not a stranger to West Africa—an outbreak in the 1990s killed chimpanzees and sickened one researcher. But the...
In an as-yet-unpublished report, an international panel of geoscientists has concluded that a pair of deadly...
Tropical disease experts tried and failed before to eradicate yaws, a rare disfiguring disease of poor countries. Now,...
Since 2002, researchers have reported that agricultural communities in the hot and humid Pacific Coast of Central...
Balkan endemic kidney disease surfaced in the 1950s and for decades defied attempts to finger the cause. It occurred...
The Pyrenean ibex, an impressive mountain goat that lived in the central Pyrenees in Spain, went extinct in 2000. But a...
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How Children Outgrow Socialism
27 May 2010 4:13 pm
Children start off like Karl Marx, but they eventually become more like a member of the International Olympic Committee. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which finds that children's views on fairness change from egalitarian to merit-based as they grow older. The results help explain why society rewards high achievers with high pay, and they could help educators better motivate children.
The find comes thanks to an economic experiment known as the dictator game. Researchers led by experimental economist Alexander Cappelen of the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen recruited youths aged 10 through 18 from schools near Bergen. Each child was paired with another student he or she didn’t know and then given a chance to earn real money by repeatedly noting the appearance of a particular three-figure number on a computer screen filled with large tables of numbers. Some students performed better at the task and thus earned more money. At the end of the game, the money earned by the pair was pooled, and one of the two students—the dictator—was asked to divvy up the cash with his or her partner in a way that he or she deemed fair.
Age determined how evenly the children divided up the earnings. About two-thirds of the youngest children, aged 10 to 11, split the pot evenly regardless of their own or their partner’s achievements. Older teenagers, however, split the pot based on achievement. Among 18-year-olds, for example, only 22% split the pot evenly with their partner, whereas 43% kept more for themselves because they felt like they’d earned it, the researchers report in tomorrow's issue of Science.
The results suggest that concepts of fairness become more merit-based as children grow up and as they participate in activities like sports and school that reward achievement, Cappelen says. "Adolescence is a very important period for shaping children’s fairness views.” The results could also help educators set up reward systems that the students themselves consider fair, he adds, which could lead to more harmonious classrooms and better student performance.
“I think it’s an interesting and important study,” says behavioral economist James Konow of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. But he is not as convinced as the authors that concepts of fairness are shaped by experience.
Listen to a podcast about this story.