Preschoolers Are Able to Take Merit into Account When Distributing Goods

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Classic studies in developmental psychology demonstrate a relatively late development of equity, with children as old as 6 or even 8–10 years failing to follow the logic of merit—that is, giving more to those who contributed more. Following Piaget (1932), these studies have been taken to indicate that judgments of justice develop slowly and follow a stagelike progression, starting off with simple rules (e.g., equality: everyone receives the same) and only later on in development evolving into more complex ones (e.g., equity: distributions match contributions). Here, we report 2 experiments with 3- and 4-year-old children (N = 195) that contradict this constructivist account. Our results demonstrate that children as young as 3 years old are able to take merit into account by distributing tokens according to individual contributions but that this ability may be hidden by a preference for equality.

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