Does kindness always pay? The influence of recipient affection and generosity on young children's allocation decisions in a resource distribution task

Kirsten H. Blakey, Erin Mason, Mioara Cristea, Nicola McGuigan, Emily J.E. Messer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

91 Downloads (Pure)


The aim of the current study was to determine whether the level of generosity shown by 3- to 8-year-old children (N = 136; M age = 69 months) in a resource distribution task would vary according to whether the recipient had previously displayed kind (affection and generosity) and/or non-kind (non-affection and non-generosity) behavior towards a third party. We first asked whether donor children would show higher levels of generosity towards an affectionate than a non-affectionate recipient (condition 1), and a generous than a non-generous recipient (condition 2), before pitting the two forms of recipient kindness directly against each other (condition 3). Last, we asked whether donations to generous recipients would decrease if the recipient simultaneously displayed non-kind behavior through a lack of affection (condition 4). Here we show that children allocated a greater share of the available resource to generous and affectionate recipients than non-generous and non-affectionate recipients respectively. However, when asked to divide resources between a generous and an affectionate recipient, or two recipients who had each displayed a combination of kind and non-kind behavior, children allocated each recipient an equal share of the resource. These findings suggest that children donate selectively based on previous information regarding recipient generosity and affection, however when both forms of kindness are pitted directly against each other, children strive for equality, suggesting that kindness engenders donor generosity irrespective of the form of kindness previously displayed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-949
Number of pages11
JournalCurrent Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date24 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019



  • Resource distribution
  • Selective prosocial donating
  • Recipient characteristics
  • Indirect reciprocity

Cite this