Article | Journal of Experimental Psychology: General | 2014

Children Develop a Veil of Fairness

by Alex Shaw, Natalia Montinari, Marco Piovesan, Kristina Olson, Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton


Previous research suggests that children develop an increasing concern with fairness over the course of development. Research with adults suggests that the concern with fairness has at least two distinct components: a desire to be fair and a desire to signal to others that they are fair. We explore whether children's developing concern with behaving fairly towards others may in part reflect a developing concern with appearing fair to others. In Experiments 1-2, most 6- to 8-year-old children behaved fairly towards others when an experimenter was aware of their choices; fewer children opted to behave fairly, however, when they could be unfair to others yet appear fair to the experimenter. In Experiment 3, we explored the development of this concern with appearing fair by using a wider age range (6- to 11-year-olds) and a different method. In this experiment, children chose how to assign a good or bad prize to themselves and another participant by either unilaterally deciding who would get each prize or by using a fair procedure—flipping a coin in private. Older children were much more likely to flip the coin than younger children, yet were just as likely as younger children to assign themselves the good prize by reporting winning the coin flip more than chance would dictate. Overall, the results of these experiments suggest that as children grow older they become increasingly concerned with appearing fair to others, which may explain some of their increased tendency to behave fairly.

Keywords: fairness; inequity aversion; reputation; social signaling; social cognitive development; Communication Intention and Meaning; Fairness; Age; Reputation; Growth and Development; Cognition and Thinking;


Shaw, Alex, Natalia Montinari, Marco Piovesan, Kristina Olson, Francesca Gino, and Michael I. Norton. "Children Develop a Veil of Fairness." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143, no. 1 (February 2014): 363–375.