Children’s Allocation of Resources in Social Dominance Situations

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Two experiments with preschoolers (36 to 78 months) and 8-year-old children (Experiment 1, N = 173; Experiment 2, N = 132) investigated the development of children’s resource distribution in dominance contexts. On the basis of the distributive justice literature, 2 opposite predictions were tested. Children could match resource allocation with the unequal social setting they observe and thus favor a dominant individual over a subordinate 1. Alternatively, children could choose to compensate the subordinate if they consider that the dominance asymmetry should be counteracted. Two experiments using a giving task (Experiment 1) and a taking task (Experiment 2) led to the same results. In both experiments, children took dominance into account when allocating resources. Moreover, their distributive decisions were similarly affected by age: Although 3- and 4-year-old children favored the dominant individual, 5-year-old children showed no preference and 8-year-old children strongly favored the subordinate. Several mechanisms accounting for this developmental pattern are discussed.

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