Children Coordinate in a Recurrent Social Dilemma by Taking Turns and Along Dominance Asymmetries

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Humans constantly have to coordinate their decisions with others even when their interests are conflicting (e.g., when 2 drivers have to decide who yields at an intersection). So far, however, little is known about the development of these abilities. Here, we present dyads of 5-year-olds (N = 40) with a repeated chicken game using a novel methodology: Two children each steered an automated toy train carrying a reward. The trains simultaneously moved toward each other so that in order to avoid a crash—which left both children empty-handed—1 train had to swerve. By swerving, however, the trains lost a portion of the rewards so that it was in each child’s interest to go straight. Children coordinated their decisions successfully over multiple rounds, and they mostly did so by taking turns at swerving. In dyads in which turn-taking was rare, dominant children obtained significantly higher payoffs than their partners. Moreover, the coordination process was more efficient in turn-taking dyads as indicated by a significant reduction in conflicts and verbal protest. These findings indicate that already by the late preschool years children can independently coordinate decisions with peers in recurrent conflicts of interest.

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