SDLL in the News
Parents know what a potential minefield a playdate can be. Two children could be playing happily together, each with a toy, until they covet the same object. Suddenly, that rocking horse means war.
Most parents stress the importance of sharing early on, whether at home with siblings or at the park with strangers. But that doesn’t mean their preschoolers are early adopters.
Kids get to participate in research, while parents learn more about how science works
It’s hands-on time at the Museum of Science (MOS) Discovery Center in Boston. Kids can touch and play their way through scientific exhibits, and even take part in actual science experiments in Living Laboratory, a model for informal cognitive science education. Scientists ask visiting parents if their kids can take part in a quick exercise for one of the ongoing studies. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Becki Kipling and her team provide training that helps scientists speak one-on-one with parents and guardians. The goal is to help parents better understand the scientific process, while at the same time giving researchers the opportunity to hone their communication skills.
A new study coauthored by Boston University Assistant Professor of Psychology Peter Blake finds that young children endorse fairness norms related to sharing, but often act in contradiction to those norms when given a chance to share. The article, titled “I Should but I Won’t: Why Young Children Endorse Norms of Fair Sharing but Do Not Follow Them,” was published this week in the journal Plos ONE.
This phenomenon has rarely been explored in the context of a single study. Using a novel approach, the researchers presented clear evidence of this discrepancy and went on to examine possible explanations for its diminution with age. In one part of the study, 3- to 8-year-old children readily stated that they themselves should share equally, asserted that others should as well, and predicted that others had shared equally with them. Nevertheless, children failed to engage in equal sharing until ages 7–8.
It’s both a scientific mystery and a parenting conundrum: how do children learn to share?
Children as young as three understand the concept of fairness. Fair means one child should get the same number of stickers as another. But put a young child in charge, and fairness seems to go out the window; young children tend to hoard when they are the ones who are deciding how much of their own candy or toys to hand over.
New research is beginning to untangle the disconnect between knowledge and behavior, with a surprising finding: Young children asked to predict how they will divvy up stickers already anticipate they will tip the scale in their favor. When it comes to sharing, the three- to six-year-old set is—scientifically speaking—a bunch of self-aware hypocrites.
BU’s Dr. Peter Blake is studying fairness and equality in children. Using game theory with candy and stickers, he observes children’s behavior in a variety of “fair” and “unfair” situations.
Most of us don’t go around obsessing about the Seven Deadly Sins—most of us probably couldn’t even name them—but the transgressions defined during early Christian times still cross our consciousness on a regular basis. Who hasn’t worried about eating too much or been distressed by someone else’s anger?
Turns out, these “sins” are often the subjects of scientific study, albeit indirectly. Researchers gathered at the MIT Museum last month to describe work they’ve conducted relevant to the deadly seven, as part of the Cambridge Science Festival. The point of their assembly: to share some ways in which research can provide insight into these darker sides of life—and even, in some cases, hold out possibilities for redemption.
A Harvard University study built around an innovative economic game indicates that, at least for our younger selves, the desire for equity often trumps the urge to maximize rewards.
“We were able to show that 8 year olds have a general sense of fairness and are willing to make large sacrifices to enforce it with other children,” said Peter Blake, at the time a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and now an assistant professor at BU. Blake coauthored the study with Katherine McAuliffe, a doctoral student at Harvard’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. “Children younger than 8 are more self-interested, yet they’re still willing to deny themselves rewards in order to prevent a transaction that’s unfair to them,” said Blake.
Over Christmas I spent some time in Germany, where I visited the Children’s Science Museum in Cologne. The place was packed with kids who were enthusiastically participating in all kinds of experiments and hands-on research activities, so that I could not help but think to myself: “What a cool place this would be to collect developmental data. Think about it: Thousands of observation points for children of varying ages…and…”…
I guess I didn’t finish the thought, but must have become distracted by some amazing perceptual illusion, or the free-throw shooting robot on the “computer and technology floor”…
Learn about a research study conducted in the Museum of Science’s Living Laboratory by Harvard graduate students Peter Blake and David Rand that teases out at what age children are willing to share.