Share and Share Alike

Young children prefer to share -- even when it's easier not to -- according to study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Children as young as three years old have a sense of what's fair, according to a new study from Harvard University.

Although previous research has indicated young children are selfish and not good at sharing, most of those studies involved asking children hypothetical questions. In this study, children shared with one another after working together to earn a prize -- even in situations where it would have been easy for one child to keep all of the reward without sharing.

For the study, gummy bears, stickers and other prizes were placed on a board inside a transparent box. If one child pulled a rope attached to the board, the board wouldn't budge, which required the child to partner with another to pull and bring the prizes within reaching distance inside the box.

In certain instances, there was only one arm hole in the box -- giving a child a chance to monopolize the prizes -- and other times, there were two arm holes. The researchers found more often than not, children almost always shared equally, even when there was only one arm hole in the box.

Coauthor Felix Warneken of Harvard University said the researchers were surprised equality was so strongly preferred among the children.

Swiss theorist Jean Piaget claimed children learn actively through the play process. He suggested adults could best help children learn by providing appropriate materials for the child to interact and construct.

A factor in the outcome of this particular experiment that should be considered has to do with the rewards offered to the children; toys. It may be easier for the children to share items that are not necessary for survival. If the children were hungry and the reward had been food, would the outcome have been different? One would think that humans would be hardwired to not share food items because otherwise, thousands of years ago, freely giving away food would have meant starvation and death.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 17, 2011
Last Updated:
February 18, 2011