Young children display an increase in prosocial donating in response to an upwards shift in generosity by a same-aged peer

Emily J.E. Messer, Vanessa Burgess, Michael Sinclair, Sarah Grant, Danielle Spencer, Nicola McGuigan

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Adult humans frequently engage in the reciprocal exchange of resources with other individuals. However, despite the important role that reciprocity plays in maintaining co-operative exchange we know relatively little of when, and how, reciprocity develops. We first asked whether pairs of young children (M = 74 months) would engage in direct reciprocity in a 'prosocial choice test' where a donor could select either a higher, or a lower, value reward (1v 2) for a partner at no cost to themselves (1v 1). In a subsequent retest we asked, for the first time, whether young children increase their level of prosocial donating in response to an upwards shift in generosity from an initially selfish partner. In order to determine whether interacting with another child was fundamental to the development of reciprocity we included a novel yoked non-agent condition. The results suggest that the children were engaging in a calculated form of reciprocity where the prior behavior of their child partner influenced their subsequent level of donation days after the initial exchange. Crucially we show that the children were not influenced by the value of the rewards received per se, rather selection by a human agent was key to reciprocity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2633
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes



  • evolutionary theory
  • human behaviour

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