Young children selectively adopt sharing norms according to norm content and donor age

Emily J.E. Messer, Amy Lumsden, Vanessa Burgess, Nicola McGuigan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


As children grow and develop, they are faced with an array of different social norms. The current study aimed to determine whether 4- to 8-year-old children (N = 249) from Scotland, UK would vary their donating behavior after first viewing a prosocial or an egalitarian sharing norm. Sharing norms were conveyed via a video demonstration in which a majority of child models (three from four) opted for either a reward of equal value for themselves and a receiver (egalitarian norm) or a reward of greater value for the receiver (prosocial norm). The results showed that viewing a prosocial, but not an egalitarian, norm led to a change in the participants donating behavior relative to a control group. However, the increase in prosocial donating elicited by the prosocial norm was relatively small, suggesting that the influence of the norm was somewhat constrained by a strong preference for egalitarianism. These results indicate that descriptive sharing norms are both socially learnt and flexibly employed, and that the influence of such norms may be limited by an aversion to disadvantageous inequity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101088
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive Development
Early online date29 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2021


  • prosocial choice test
  • resource distribution
  • social norms
  • conformity
  • disadvantageous inequity


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