Four-year-old children favor kin when the stakes are higher

TitleFour-year-old children favor kin when the stakes are higher
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsSpokes, AC, Spelke, ES
Conference NameCognitive Development Society (CDS)
Conference LocationPortland, OR

Only in cases when the stakes are high--donating a kidney or risking injury to rescue someone in peril-- do adults report more willingness to help siblings over close friends (Stewart-Williams, 2007). When people are dividing plentiful, low-value resources, children expect them to share equally with friend and siblings (Olson & Spelke, 2008). However, will children show a kinship preference when the stakes are higher? We first tested young children's relative favoring of kin versus friends and strangers in distributing limited resources--one item instead of many (Spokes & Spelke, 2016). We found that 3- to 5- year-old children (n=252) shared more with kin and friends than with strangers but did not favor kin over friend, either when reasoning about fictional characters (Experiments 1, 3) or about their own friends and family (Experiment 2). This pattern of results could have occurred for two reasons: first, young children do not yet have the kinship index mechanisms that guide adults' recent altruistic favors and reported likelihood of donating an organ to siblings (Lieberman, Tooby & Cosmides, 2007). Second, the hypothetical costs and rewards used may not be relevant or valuable to children. To distinguish between these hypotheses, we asked whether children would show a preference for kin if the cost was more relevant to them--their own time and effort. In the present experiment, we asked if children would work harder for kin over non-kin when playing a challenging geometry game (Dillon, Huang, & Spelke, 2013). Each round, they could earn stickers for a different recipient: themselves, a parent, sibling, friend, or an unfamiliar child. Children could end the round whenever they wanted. We measured the number of trials played, trials answered correctly, and duration of play. Data for the number of trials and duration played were log-normally distributed, so we log transformed these variables prior to analyses (Csibra, Hernik, Mascaro, Tatone, & Lengyel, 2016). Across these measures, one-way ANOVAs revealed that four-year-olds (n=24) played more trials for their kin relations--siblings and parents--than for non-kin--friends and strangers, F(1, 46) = 4.27, p = .044, answered more trials correctly, F(1, 46) = 4.57, p = .038, and played marginally longer, F(1, 46) = 3.14, p = .083. There was no main effect of recipient when comparing across all four recipients nor significant pairwise comparisons. Five-year-olds (n=24) did not differ when playing for kin versus non-kin (ps > .05). These findings provide initial evidence that four-year-old children calibrate their time and effort in a task differently according to who will reap the rewards, but five-year-olds do not. Five-year-olds may find the task easier and less costly or may have different social experiences having attended school. Nonetheless, we found that children's social decisions depend upon the recipient of their generosity. We provide initial evidence that children may favor kin when the stakes are higher and resources--their time and effort--are more meaningful to them: four-year-olds played more trials and did so more accurately when winning for kin.


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