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Stingy Kids

November 21, 2012

Children, like adults, act more generous when they’re being watched.



Conditional generosity. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Adults tend to be more generous towards others when they’re being watched. Now, research suggests that this behavior may start as young as age 5. Yale psychologist Kristin Leimgruber led the study. She and her colleagues had kindergartners dole out stickers to friends while also keeping some for themselves. Sometimes the recipient couldn’t see the giver, or her bucket of stickers.


Children were strongly influenced by what the recipient knew when they were making the decision. So, generally, the children were only generous when the recipient was aware of the opportunity for the subject to be generous, so when they could see the subject, then children were really generous, but whenever the recipient was unaware, the children were not generous at all. And so it seems like they’re being extremely strategic.


She says this indicates that children are more sophisticated in their strategic behaviors than previously thought. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

By the age of five, a child's approach to generosity may resemble that of adults. (Jupiter Images)