Changing Children’s Minds about Distributive Justice

AbstractHow can social learning influence children’s inclinations toward equality-based or merit-based fairness? To investigate this question, six- and seven-year-olds were first presented with a pre-test distribution task in which they divided eight stickers between two hypothetical children, one of whom was a more productive worker. Participants were then given brief, direct testimony that advocated either equality- or merit-based fairness (whichever was not preferred at pre-test), and that appealed either to emotions or reason. A novel experimenter then presented participants with a post-test distribution task. The results indicated that a majority of children changed their distribution patterns from pre-test to post-test after being provided with direct testimony. These changes in resource distribution were accompanied by marked changes in the kinds of explanations that children provided. This research indicates that children’s preferences for different forms of just resource distribution can be heavily influenced by social communication.

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