Fairness

One way of closing the knowledge-behavior gap in children’s fairness behavior is to simply encourage children to think about their existing concept of fairness.

Children have an early-emerging expectation that resources should be divided fairly amongst agents, yet their behavior does not begin to align with these expectations until later in development. This dissociation between knowledge and behavior raises important questions about the mechanisms that encourage children to behave how they know they should behave. Recent work suggests that one means of promoting ‘good’ behavior is by providing children with information about local norms: i.e., how one should behave or how others are behaving. Our preliminary findings suggest that one way of closing the knowledge-behavior gap in children’s fairness behavior is to simply encourage children to think about their existing concept of fairness.

Another project focusing on fairness investigates the role that observation plays. If children are given the opportunity to conceal unjust (i.e. selfish) behaviors behind a shroud of fairness, will they choose to uphold fairness norms or act unjustly? As children become social participants of the world, they learn what is just and how justice should be carried out. Early in development, children are sensitive to when they are the victims of unjust behaviors and are affected when others are treated unjustly. Here, we investigate whether children are motivated by a desire to genuinely engage in a good action, i.e., to act justly, versus the desire to simply be perceived as being fair amongst their peers. By using an Ultimatum Game paradigm with public and private conditions, we are able to better understand what motivates children to be good.


Charity

Are children sensitive to others’ means when assessing their charitable virtue?

Charity and generosity are virtues that are valued by diverse religious traditions (e.g., Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam) as well as secular moral codes. Charity is almost always praiseworthy. However, it is not always obligatory. As adults, we generally view those of different means as subject to different prescriptive norms regarding giving: Those with less are deemed less obligated to give than those with more. Relatedly, we evaluate the kindness of one’s giving within the context of one’s means: We judge a $500 charitable donation from a minimum-wage worker differently than an identical donation from a multimillionaire. However, do children also make such judgments? We are exploring the extent to which children use information about others’ means to modulate their normative expectations for, and evaluations of, others’ giving. We predict that children are sensitive to others’ means when assessing their charitable virtue. 


Loyalty

By understanding the psychology underlying altruistic behaviors toward ingroup and outgroup members, we may be able to pinpoint how people can learn to show kindness and charity to all.

Those who are virtuous often show kindness and charity to others. Research reveals that people tend to be more generous toward people in the same social circles than people outside of their social circles. Is this ingroup favoritism driven by the possibility that people are more likely to consider the minds (e.g., desires, thoughts) of ingroup members than the minds of outgroup members? We are exploring this question by examining whether and how prompting people to consider the minds of others influences altruistic behaviors toward others. One prediction is that prompting people to consider the minds of ingroup members and outgroup members would increase generosity for both groups of people. Alternatively, such a prompt may only be effective for increasing generosity toward outgroup members as people are already spontaneously considering the minds of ingroup members. A third hypothesis predicts no increase in generosity toward outgroup members as people may still have a difficult time considering the minds of outgroup members even when instructed to do so. By understanding the psychology underlying altruistic behaviors toward ingroup and outgroup members, we may be able to pinpoint how people can learn to show kindness and charity to all.

We are also interested in the role that group identity plays in loyalty. Living in groups is essential to human survival, but how do people prioritize conflicting loyalties to social groups when making cooperative decisions? As people develop and learn to navigate the complex social world, group membership becomes important in deciding whom to share with. It is not surprising that both kids and adults give more to their ingroup members. This is true for many social categories as well as minimal groups. However, in the contemporary world, adults are members of many social categories simultaneously. The question of how social categories are prioritized in contexts of cooperative dilemmas is unanswered. With this project, we are exploring this question by asking adults to make sharing decisions (i.e., play the Dictator Game and Prisoner’s Dilemma) with players that are nationality and gender in- and out-groups. By doing so, we expect to better understand how adults prioritize their loyalty to their nationality and gender groups.


Justice

How is group information taken into consideration when asking for help and resources?

Human beings have a preference for their ingroup early on in life. Infants and young children prefer to play and share more with ingroup members. The manifestation of this preference is behavior is greatly attenuated when children become more concerned with upholding norms of justice. As equality becomes a primary concern, 7- and 8-year-olds begin to share indiscriminately. However, will this pattern persist when children are asking for help, instead of being in a position of helping? With this project, we are exploring how group information is taken into consideration when asking for help and resources. We expect that knowing that the person approached might reject to offer help, the decision of whom to ask will be based on group membership. In other words, children will expect their ingroup members to help at a higher rate than their outgroup members. Ingroup bias in this context may persist even when justice is a priority.


Forgiveness

Does forgiveness have benefits both for victims and for those who cause harm? If so, are these benefits enhanced relative to responses like punishment?

Those who are virtuous are willing to forgive those who wrong them, but what psychological purpose does forgiveness serve? On the one hand, we might expect that forgiveness has the largest benefit for the victim: By forgiving someone who has slighted us, we open ourselves to a better relationship and a re-establishment of cooperative ties. Alternatively, forgiveness may have its largest impact on the perpetrator: Forgiving someone causes them to feel close and indebted to us. We are exploring this by asking how well forgiveness recalibrates relationships, especially in contrast to other kinds of responses (e.g. punishing the perpetrator). We expect that forgiveness will have benefits both for victims and for those who cause harm, and that these benefits will be enhanced relative to responses like punishment.
 
We are also interested in how forgiveness developments over time and across cultures. In this project, we examine the roles of ecological and cultural variables in generating variation in virtue and evaluate the routes through which virtue is cultivated in different societies and at different ages, with a particular focus on explicit instruction and habit formation. To address the multiplicity of human environments, we will use the tools of anthropology, investigating six diverse populations (USA, Canada, Peru, Ecuador, India, and Uganda). Our approach is based on a belief that virtue is a flexible process, one that evolves within the individual over time and across contexts. Consequently, our project seeks psychological insights that may be leveraged to close the gap between what we ought to do and what we actually do, informing core issues in psychology and religious studies and fostering fairness, forgiveness, and honesty. In recasting virtue as adaptive responses, we hope to uncover the ecological and cultural roots of these virtues, thereby empowering ourselves and our communities to better cultivate fairness, forgiveness, and honesty from the bottom-up.