Early Sympathy and Social Acceptance Predict the Development of Sharing in Children

Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 12/2012; 7(12):e52017. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052017
Source: PubMed


Sharing is a fascinating activity of the human species and an important basis for the development of fairness, care, and cooperation in human social interaction. Economic research has proposed that sharing, or the willingness to sacrifice own resources for others, has its roots in social emotions such as sympathy. However, only few cross-sectional experiments have investigated children's other-regarding preferences, and the question how social-emotional skills influence the willingness to share valuable resources has not been tested. In the present longitudinal-experimental study, a sample of 175 6-year-old children, their primary caregivers, and their teachers is examined over a 3-year period of time. Data are analyzed by means of growth curve modeling. The findings show that sharing valuable resources strongly increases in children from 6 to 9 years of age. Increases in sharing behavior are associated with the early-developing ability to sympathize with anonymous others. Sharing at 7 years of age is predicted by feelings of social acceptance at 6 years of age. These findings hold after controlling for children's IQ and SES. Girls share more equally than boys at 6 and 7 years of age, however, this gender difference disappears at the age of 9 years. These results indicate that human sharing strongly increases in middle childhood and, that this increase is associated with sympathy towards anonymous others and with feelings of social acceptance. Additionally, sharing develops earlier in girls than in boys. This developmental perspective contributes to new evidence on change in sharing and its social-emotional roots. A better understanding of the factors underlying differences in the development of sharing and pro-social orientations should also provide insights into the development of atypical, anti-social orientations which exhibit social-emotional differences such as aggression and bullying behavior.

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    • "Moreover, there were a significant number of children who divided the marbles equally even when no color cues were given (33%) or who produced equal splits without reference to the color they had been assigned to earlier (26%). Another explanation for why children in the current study acted far more generously than in previous studies is that this time children were interacting with each other in a face-to-face context rather than dealing with anonymous or absent agents (e.g., Fehr et al., 2008; Gummerum et al., 2010; Malti et al., 2012). Furthermore, the degree of this interaction (whether it was collaborative or parallel work) then determined how likely children were to share with each other; collaboration facilitated (equal) sharing, but only if the resources ended up in an undifferentiated pool (with perhaps some effect of color coding as a weak indication of ownership), such that neither partner needed to sacrifice anything. "
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    ABSTRACT: Young children are often considered "selfish" with resources because they are reluctant to give up things already in their possession (e.g., as in dictator games). In the current two studies, we presented pairs of 18- and 24-month-old toddlers with various situations involving resources that no one possessed ahead of time. We observed very few instances of individuals attempting to monopolize the resources; rather, the pair peaceably divided them such that each child got something. Equal divisions-even involving one child sacrificing his or her own resources to establish equality-were especially pronounced when children were acting together jointly even in the absence of active collaboration. Children's divisions were also influenced by cues to ownership such as a spatial pre-division of resources and resources marked by color (and originally spatially associated with one individual). These results suggest that young children are not selfish, but instead rather generous, with resources when they are dividing them among themselves. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 08/2015; 140:228-244. DOI:10.1016/j.jecp.2015.07.009 · 3.12 Impact Factor
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    • "Whereas 3-year-old children show no spontaneously occurring sympathy with materially needy others (or only after it was externally cued by emotional signals; Svetlova, 2013), 5-year-old children might be better able to put themselves into the shoes of the needy recipient and, as a consequence, showed more sympathy , and thus more prosocial behavior, toward the needy agent; indicating an abstract understanding that poor agents deserve more resources than rich agents. This explanation might be supported by recent findings that early sympathy predicts the development of sharing behavior (Malti et al., 2012) and that mood effects fairness decisions in dictator games (Forgas and Tan, 2013). "
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    Frontiers in Psychology 06/2014; 5. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00344 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    • "It takes many forms, from the reciprocal sharing of toys with friends in preschool, to the anonymous donation of money to a charity, to our society's centralized division and allocation of resources as part of the social welfare system. Because of its roots in early childhood and its importance to large-scale fairness and care (Malti et al., 2012), a rich body of research in psychology has focused on understanding the development and motivation of children's giving behaviors (Eisenberg et al., 2014). It is often the case, however , that little distinction is drawn between different subtypes of giving. "
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    ABSTRACT: This study investigated the role of moral reasoning and moral emotions (i.e., sympathy and guilt) in the development of young children's donating behavior (N = 160 4- and 8-year-old children). Donating was measured through children's allocation of resources (i.e., stickers) to needy peers and was framed as a donation to "World Vision." Children's sympathy was measured with both self- and primary caregiver-reports and participants reported their anticipation of guilt feelings following actions that violated prosocial moral norms, specifically the failure to help or share. Participants also provided justifications for their anticipated emotions, which were coded as representing moral or non-moral reasoning processes. Children's moral reasoning emerged as a significant predictor of donating behavior. In addition, results demonstrated significant developmental and gender effects, with 8-year-olds donating significantly more than 4-year-olds and 4-year-old girls making higher value donations than boys of the same age. We discuss donation behaviors within the broader context of giving and highlight the moral developmental antecedents of giving behaviors in childhood.
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