Fairness and equity

Parents and teachers are quite familiar with the phrase “that’s not fair!”  This simple statement shows that children know there are norms of fairness, and that they know that they can appeal to those norms to achieve a desired outcome. We have developed a novel experiment to study how children react to situations of resource inequality—for example, when a peer gets more or less candy than you. We are currently using this paradigm to explore the variables that affect children’s view of what is fair, and we are investigating the development of fairness norms in different countries.

Giving and receiving

Recent research shows that very young children are surprisingly helpful and have a sophisticated understanding of people’s behaviors and needs. But despite this general prosocial motivation, children are often reluctant to share toys and food. We examine the situational and personal factors that encourage or inhibit altruistic giving. We are also investigating how receiving gifts or treats affects children’s prosocial behavior.

Property and ownership


Another exclamation often heard during play groups is “that’s mine!” Children clearly have possessive tendencies for toys, but by preschool they begin to recognize the property rights of others. To do this, they must identify when ownership exists and understand what rules apply to property in different situations. These processes are not simple—even lawyers struggle with these issues! We study how children learn about private property and how this affects their behavior.

New Projects

We are always coming up with new project ideas but we need motivated students to take the lead and develop hypotheses and experiments! Our research draws on many approaches: game theory and behavioral economics, evolutionary developmental models, moral development and cognition. But we are always interested in extending our research into new territories (infants, neurobiology, etc.).  Potential students and collaborators are welcome to contact us to brainstorm!

SDLL in the News

SDLL Book Giveaway at the O’Neill Branch library in Cambridge

May 18th, 2015- A great day for a book giveaway! The Social Development...

Contact Us

  • Email us sdll@bu.edu
  • Give us a call (617) 358-7236
  • Visit us Room 118, 64 Cummington Mall Boston, MA 02215

Information for Students

Want to volunteer?We hire volunteer and directed study students for each semester. We're looking for responsible, energetic students with a passion for research! Help us run studies, interact with parents and participants, enter data, and more.

Interested? Find out more!