Children Share More Readily When They Work Hard Together

Sharing is believed to come into play with children when they reach the age of 6 or 7 years. In the present study, researchers examined whether children as young as 3 years old would share the rewards that they get through a joint effort. They even tested the sharing quality of toddlers when there was an opportunity to monopolize the reward. The authors stated, “Here we show that 3-year-old children share mostly equally with a peer after they have worked together actively to obtain rewards in a collaborative task, even when those rewards could easily be monopolized.”

Sharing resources equally amongst each other is a quality that distinguishes human societies from other primate societies. Earlier studies have shown that this sharing quality develops in humans at around 6 to 7 years of age. But in all these studies the reward was given to one child, and the child was asked to share it with an unknown child. Researchers of the present study felt this kind of experimental circumstance is rarely observed in real life. Children get things after participating in a collaborative effort, and they then usually have to share the item with their collaborators. So they wanted to check the sharing tendency of children by producing a situation that would be more like real life.

* Sixty-four 3-year-old children were included in the study. Children with equal dominant characters were paired together.
* In the first part of experiment, each pair was asked to pull a box together so that they could get a sticker and a candy kept in the box, at two different places. In the second part, the same experiment was repeated by keeping the rewards at one place, so that only one child could reach get it.
* After the experiment was complete, the method of sharing the rewards was analyzed. There were basically three types of sharing. First was active giving, where one child gave the reward to the other child. Second, was active communication, in which one child asked the other one to take his or her share of the reward. The third one was passive sharing, where the children just took their share on their own. Tendency to monopolize the rewards was also noted.

* In both the parts of the experiment, 70 percent of the pairs shared the rewards equally. The observation in the second part of experiment is important, because instead of taking the opportunity to monopolize, most children shared the rewards equally.
* In both the parts of experiment, 80 percent of sharing was done passively.
* Active communication was observed in 10 percent of the pairs.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The present study did not evaluate the proportion of effort with which each child contributed to obtain the reward. In the future, studies may be done to know whether there is any difference in sharing, depending on the amount of effort that was contributed by each participant. In this study, collaboration between only two children was assessed. Future research could evaluate the sharing of rewards when a task is performed in a group.

Similar experiments in the past, using chimpanzee participants, showed that whenever an opportunity was there, chimpanzees monopolized on the rewards irrespective of the collaboration that went into getting the reward. This experiment has shown this unique quality of humans, which differentiates them from other primates. This study has also shown convincingly that the quality of sharing comes much before school days, as early as three years of age. The behavior of sharing was observed in the present study. Unlike in many previous studies, in this study, children shared even the efforts for getting the rewards and also they interacted with each other throughout the task.

For More Information:
Young Children Share the Spoils After Collaboration
Publication Journal Psychological Science, December 2010
By Felix Werneken; Karoline Lohse; Harvard University, and University of Göttingen

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.