Altruistic Punishment in Children
Sullivan, Erin L.
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Why human beings choose to cooperate· and be nice to. others, even when such behavior goes against their self-interest, is an unsolve~ question in psychology. Some theo~ies suggest that we learn altruistic behaviors from society. Other theories suggest that we are born with tendencies to behave altruistically. The current study investigated whether or not young children display altruistic punishment and take a cost to themselves to punish a third-party if given the opportunity to do so. If young children demonstrate these tendencies, it is more likely that altruistic behaviors are biological in origin. Eighty-two children aged 3 to 5 years-old were given an opportunity to eat broccoli. Some of these children were told that the broccoli that they did not eat was going to go to ·a broccoliloving, mean person. Some children were told that the broccoli they did not eat was not going to any other person; the broccoli-loving, mean person had her own share of broccoli. More children ate the broccoli when ifwas going to a broccoli-loving, mean person; however, this only occurred with one of the two mean people in the study. Pilot data for a second study were collected that suggested that the finding that the children ate more broccoli that was going to someone else was not a display of altruistic punishment, but instead perhaps driven by scarce resource competition or an unexplained particular dislike of one of the actresses who played the mean character in the study.