Sense of justice in young children

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Infants think fairly and act unfairly

Infants know about moral values ​​such as justice from the age of three. However, US psychologists found in a study that children of this age are not yet able to put the sense of justice into practice. Only schoolchildren aged six and over can waive their own advantage in the sense of justice and fairness.

Even small children can cognitively understand what “just behavior” or justice is. However, this does not mean that they share chocolate, for example. "Children are only able to behave fairly after a certain age," as researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (USA) report in the journal "Plos One". Three-year-olds already know the rules for “fair sharing”. However, the children use fair sharing, but are initially still interested in their own advantage. "Most children are only able to put justice rules into practice from the age of seven," the psychological scientists sum up.

Young children are more concerned with their own advantage Craig Smith and his team examined the behavior of a total of 102 children. The subjects were between three and eight years old. At the beginning of the study, the children received stickers in their favorite color. In the first round, the little ones were asked how to divide up the stickers in order to share them with another child. The amazing thing: All children thought the idea was good if the stickers were shared in a fair way, like "equally large". It didn't matter whether they belonged to the donor or the recipient side. However, it turned out later that only the children from the age of seven were able to comply with the rules. Most children under the age of six were more concerned with their own advantage. Gender or socio-cultural backgrounds played no role in this.

In order to ensure the results, the children were not asked in the second round what they should share, but what they would really give away. The older children from the age of six stated that they “wanted to share honestly” and did so, while the little ones stated that they preferred to keep more of the colored stickers themselves. The under six year olds kept the stickers.

Include study results in education "The results show that children know the rules for sharing early on and also want their counterparts to adhere to them," explains child and adolescent psychologist Smith. "However, children can only understand the value of sharing from the age of seven and can then give up their own advantage". Gritli Bertram, social pedagogue from Hanover, rated the study results as "insightful". Finally, the analysis shows that young children under the age of six cannot yet implement justice. "The upbringing of children should take this aspect into account". (sb)

Read also on the topic of justice:
Infants with a high sense of justice

Photo credit: Karl-Heinz Laube /

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