Isabelle Brocas, University of Southern California

"Altruism and strategic giving in children and adolescents"

Abstract

We conduct a laboratory experiment to investigate the evolution of altruism and strategic giving from childhood to adulthood. 334 school-age children and adolescents (from K to 12th grade) and 48 college students participated in a one-shot dictator game and a repeated alternating version of the same dictator game. Each dictator game featured the choice between a fair split (4; 4) and a selfish split (6; 1) between oneself and an anonymous partner. We find that altruism (fair split in the one-shot game) increases with age in children and drops after adolescence, and cannot alone account for the development of cooperation in the repeated game. Older subjects reciprocate more and also better anticipate the potential gains of initiating a cooperative play. Overall, children younger than 7 years of age are neither altruistic nor strategic while college students strategically cooperate despite a relatively low level of altruism. Participants in the intermediate age range gradually learn to anticipate the long term benefits of cooperation and to adapt their behavior to that of their partner. A turning point after which  ooperation can be sustained occurs at about 11-12 years of age.

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