A recent study in Psychological Science shows that “even babies are disturbed by displays of injustice — and even when it doesn’t apply to them,” TIME reports. “We think children are born with a skeleton of general expectations about fairness,” co-author Stephanie Sloane of the University of Illinois said, “and these principles and concepts get shaped in different ways depending on the culture and the environment they’re brought up in.”
Here’s how researchers tested this fairness theory:
48 babies aged 19 months were tested individually as they sat on their mothers’ laps. They watched a show featuring two giraffe puppets who were offered toys. “In some versions, the experimenter, who had two toys, gave one toy to each giraffe. In other scenarios, the experimenter gave both toys to only one giraffe,” according to TIME. The babies looked at the scene much longer when only one giraffe was given all the toys, and “prior studies have shown that babies reliably pay attention longer to things that surprise them or violate their expectations.” Thus, the babies thought that one giraffe getting all the toys was unfair.
In another experiment, 21-month-olds were surprised to see that adults who helped put toys away and adults who continued to play during clean-up time were rewarded equally with stickers. (Don’t worry, kids – everyone who’s ever been on a team with a slacker feels the exact same way.)
Interestingly, though pre-schoolers prefer to witness fairness in action, they have a harder time creating a fair atmosphere themselves. TIME reports, “When preschool children watch candy being distributed to others, they prefer that everybody get an equal share. Yet when they are given the chance to divvy up candy themselves, they tend to act selfishly and object only when they are the ones who end up with a smaller share.” This may explain why kids want to be shared with but have so much trouble sharing themselves. TIME adds, in closing, “A sense of fairness also seems to be linked with happiness on a societal level: research shows that countries that have less social inequality have greater levels of happiness and longer life expectancies than societies in which there is a greater gap between rich and poor.”
Are you listening, Republicans?