Fair distribution in early childhood: Stuck between friends and needy strangers

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Resource distribution, Need, Friendship, Fairness, Distributional justice, Prosocial behavior, Favoritism


Children distribute resources to recipients differentially regarding various factors such as ‘need’ or ‘friendship’ (social closeness). The aim of this study is to examine the interaction between these two variables by presenting children with two recipients who are a friend and a stranger varying on the number of materials they need. A distribution task with four different scenarios (conditions) was applied to 25 children (Mage =62.16, 15 males) aged 4-6 years. Across scenarios of four experimental conditions, the amount of needed materials was manipulated between the friend and the stranger. The participants were asked to distribute resources to the recipients in each experimental session. Allocation of all resources to the needy recipient to eliminate the need in the expense of the friend meant ‘fair’ distribution; while the allocation of all resources to the friend meant ‘friend-favoring’. The results showed an interaction between ‘need’ and ‘friendship’ for their roles in allocation decisions. Children favored the friend when their friend is needier than the stranger and transferred the greatest amount of resources to the needy friend. In the condition that the stranger is needier, levels of friend-favoring decrease. The results indicated that preschool children have a tendency for favoritism but this preference weakens in presence of a needier stranger. Taken together, the findings suggest that children are capable of taking the two competing factors of friendship and neediness into consideration at a time and able to adjust their allocation to meet the needs of not only friends but also strangers. Preschool children’s preference to support fairness occurs together with their developing helping behavior and moral reasoning as well.


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How to Cite

Kaya, G. N. (2023). Fair distribution in early childhood: Stuck between friends and needy strangers. Journal of Childhood, Education & Society, 4(2), 124–141. https://doi.org/10.37291/2717638X.202342210