The ontogeny of fairness in seven societies

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Abstract

A sense of fairness plays a critical role in supporting human cooperation1,2,3. Adult norms of fair resource sharing vary widely across societies, suggesting that culture shapes the acquisition of fairness behaviour during childhood4,5. Here we examine how fairness behaviour develops in children from seven diverse societies, testing children from 4 to 15 years of age (n=866 pairs) in a standardized resource decision task6,7. We measured two key aspects of fairness decisions: disadvantageous inequity aversion (peer receives more than self) and advantageous inequity aversion (self receives more than a peer). We show that disadvantageous inequity aversion emerged across all populations by middle childhood. By contrast, advantageous inequity aversion was more variable, emerging in three populations and only later in development. We discuss these findings in relation to questions about the universality and cultural specificity of human fairness.

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