That’s not fair!
Parents especially mothers are concerned about cultivating certain social skills in their young toddlers like sharing and waiting for their turn. Not many teachers and parents realize that sharing and waiting for their turn will stem from the concept of fairness, and this trait in young children is inborn. Yes, this was the subject of a puppet experiment research study conducted by Patricia Kanngiesser from the University of Bristol who led the study, and Prof Felix Warneken from Harvard University, a co-author of this study that was published in the journal PLoS One. (if I remember correctly this experiment was shared by ChildCareexchange newsletter, thank you)
The study used a puppet experiment with toddlers. Using puppets allowed the experimenters to carry out a controlled experiment whilst still revealing exactly how the children would behave towards peers in a real world situation. The game works like this: the puppet (with the aid of an adult puppeteer) and a three-year-old participant gather their hauls of little buckets. Then the child /puppet team is rewarded with stickers – one for each coin they have collected. At this point the child has to decide how to share his or her prized stickers with their puppet partner.
The results of this study-experiment were quite surprising, “We were very surprised to find this sophisticated sharing behavior already present in three-year-olds,” said Ms. Kanngiesser. Ms. Kannigiesser said there was a “natural human predisposition” towards treating other fairly. “It seems to be intuitive,” she said. “People have found that even by 18 months of age, children have expectations about how things should be shared fairly.” And there are logical, human reasons for this natural bias towards fair play.
We at Podar Institute of Education were Inspired by a BBC story by Victoria Gill on this puppet experiment and we decided to conduct the same experiment with different age groups and variations. Social situations or peers or adults as we wanted to find out if fairness and sharing is inborn and does it remain constant at all ages or do children influence different age groups and then do they show a change in their fairness and sharing behavior. Variations because we wanted to see what social situations cause this change in behavior or are they unconsciously influenced by adult behavior or expectations, after all young children do learn by imitation.
We conducted the study in Mumbai city and 13 other small and big towns and cities in India. Children were from different backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic status. We took equal boys and girls and the game/experiment was done at least 4 times with each child. We conducted the same experiment with 2, 3, 4,5,6 and 7 year olds. From each age group we took 10 children.
1. 2 and 3 year olds not only shared equally with the puppet but also sometimes even gave their share to the puppet.
2. 4 year olds were very fair, which means if they took out 4 tokens and the puppet took out 2 tokens in the game, they shared their prize with the puppet as 4 and 2 which means prize is distributed as much as the effort and not more.
3. 5,6 and 7 year olds did not share fairly, they wanted to hoard all the prizes, they thought that the effort of the puppet was through its handler so why should the puppet get anything.
4. So then we made them play with real children instead of a puppet but found the same unfairness in them.
5. We then tried a different angle to the study, we made the 5,6 and 7 year olds play under the supervision of a teacher. Just the teacher’s presence made them share equally and fairly.
6. The same group was then made to play in the presence of some of their mothers. Mothers were not given any instructions. We found more squabbling and unfairness in this group. The ones whose mothers were around were more vocal and quibbled more and the mothers compounded the problem by taking sides.
What did we learn through this experiment? We agreed with the original researchers that fairness and sharing or equality is innate and is part of our emerging socio-emotional skills. Over a period of time we are unconsciously ‘groomed’ to be selfish and hoard the prize instead of thinking about fairness and justice. A simple example is the birthday game that all kids are exposed to, the breaking of the piñata, here everyone pushes each other and hoards, goaded by adults watching the game. We wanted parents and teachers to realize the impact of adults on shaping the social personalities of young children.
Given here are the percentages of the findings of the game/study/experiment,
1. In the 2 year age group 90% of the kids shared equally and fairly. 8 % took all and 2 % were not bothered about the prize.
2. In the 3 year age group 88% of the kids shared fairly and equally, 7% did not share and took all, 5% were unsure about how many to keep and how many to give and ended up giving and taking back
3. In the 4-year age group 76% of the kids shared fairly and equally, 10% did not share at all and 8% shared then took it back when no one was looking. And 6% did not like the prize so did not take it!
4. In the 5 year age group 70% of the kids shared fairly and equally, 15% did not share fairly, 10% did not share at all and 5% argued that the puppet cannot compete as it was held by a teacher, not fair , were not participative in the game.
5. In the 6 year age group 60% did not share fairly and equally, 30% shared fairly and equally and 10% threw a tantrum when asked to share- this is with the puppet
6. In the 6 year age group 62% did not share fairly and equally, 28% shared fairly and equally on seeing the teacher standing there, and 10% had conflicts, cried, walked away, threw the prize etc.- this is when they played with children and had teacher standing.
7. In the 6 year age group 68% did not share fairly and equally, 10% shared fairly and equally, 17% shared fairly and equally after mother intervention, and 5% had conflicts, cried, walked away, threw the prize etc. - this is when they played with children and had mother standing.
8. In the 7 year age group 65% did not share fairly and equally, 20% shared fairly and equally and 15% threw a tantrum when asked to share- this is with the puppet
9. In the 7 year age group 71% did not share fairly and equally, 27% shared fairly and equally on seeing the teacher standing there, and 2% had conflicts, cried, walked away, threw the prize etc.- this is when they played with children and had teacher standing.
10. In the 7 year age group 88% did not share fairly and equally, 5% shared fairly and equally, 7% shared fairly and equally after mother intervention- this is when they played with children and had mother standing.
We want to share this study with all parents, teachers and adults that work with young children so that precious human traits like fairness do not disappear because of lack of knowledge or understanding of how kids learn and why kids fail to share and be fair. As adults who work with young children we teachers and parents must realize our responsibility and preserve these important human traits so that our children grow up in a just and fair society build by them. Our study was featured in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, here is the link - http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31804&articlexml=Natural-for-kids-to-share-but-adults-ruin-24102014007048