How do kids perceive fairness? A new study revealed that the culture in which kids are raised has a significant influence on how they respond to unfair treatment.

A group of researchers from different universities in the United States examined how the perception of fairness developed in children from seven different countries namely Canada, India, Mexico, Senegal, Peru, Uganda and the U.S.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, researchers conducted a simple game involving 866 children who were aged four to 15 years old. The game tested the idea called inequity aversion, or a person's tendency and reaction towards incidental inequalities.

In this game, candy is distributed between two players where one is designated as the actor while the other is the recipient. They were seated opposite of one another, with an apparatus made up of two platforms and two colored handles between them. Researchers placed candy as a reward on the surface of the platforms in varying distributions which sometimes favored the actor and sometimes favored the recipient.

"In some trials, the distribution was one piece of candy for the actor and four for the recipient, and in others it was the other way around," said Felix Warneken of Harvard University, senior author of the study.

Warneken said that if the actor chooses to accept the distribution, they were instructed to pull the green handle. The platform tilts out and the actor gets the candy. If they choose to reject the distribution, they were instructed to pull the red handle. The platform tilts in, the candy falls into a bowl and no one gets the candy.

The study found that most children grasped the unfairness of being given less candy than another child, but older kids from Canada, Uganda and the U.S. who were given more candy than the child opposite them were the only ones to sense unfairness about it and act on their realization, researchers said.

"This suggested to us that this form of unfairness, that is, a negative reaction to getting more than others, may be importantly influenced by culture," said Katherine McAuliffe, co-author of the study.

In a similar study conducted in Boston, the researchers found that participants who were eight years old chose to reject candy distributions that favored them. Peter Blake, another study co-author, said that it was surprising how these children were content in making that small sacrifice.

"When we asked them why they did it, they said it was not fair," he added.

Meanwhile, the researchers plan to return to the countries and study the cultural norms to which these children are exposed.

Photo : Steven Depolo | Flickr

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