It has long been demonstrated that when self-interest is absent, kindergartners have a sense of fairness. Now, arguably even before the notion of self-interest, it has been shown that 19 – 21 month old children already have a sense of fairness.
Three researchers from the universities of Illinois and Pennsylvania believe they have proven one of two possible conclusions. The first is that the sense of fairness is one of the innate and universal conditions with which we all come equipped or the second is a behavioral rule acquired by infants derived from observing or participating in everyday social interactions. The researchers have left both as possible sources.
However, since the study conducted is on children younger than ever before, the researchers tend to believe the former or that a sense of fairness is innate and universal. This is because the tests conducted were on 1½ year olds who barely have developed language and have almost no social interactions outside those with siblings and parents.
The outcome of the research is described as follows, “In Experiment 1, 19-month-olds expected an experimenter to distribute two items equally between two individuals; in Experiment 2, 21-month-olds expected an experimenter to distribute rewards equally between two individuals when both had worked, but not when one had worked while the other had chosen not to.”
The report continued that, “The same behavior on the part of the experimenter – giving one item to each individual – was thus viewed as expected in the first context, but not in the second. Together these results suggest that, by 19 – 21 months, infants show context-sensitive expectations about the allocation of resources and dispensation of rewards, at least in simple situations.”
Even the site in the brain for fairness was found in 2010. This plus the conclusion that a sense of fairness, representing equal reward for equal effort, is innate in all of us raises the issue of how and when self-interest, causing us to take a larger share, was introduced into personalities. Simple observation shows that self-interest and making/getting more than the other guy is the much stronger motivation as life progresses.
When does this type of self-interest begin? Is it the parent’s first admonishment that we should not allow another child to take our toy? Is it the result of all the competitive situations we put our children in? Does it start when we let a sibling take a larger piece of something? Is it reinforced by the endless personal greed in competitions fostered by being in business or by playing the market?
In any case it is clear the society and its parents should foster and emphasize this sense of fairness and discourage the type of behavior that allows a disproportionate share to be seized by the greedy. Fairness in the distribution of assets and rewards should be a singular objective of both individuals and of societies.
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