How do children “repay” acts of kindness?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Previous work has investigated whether and when children might “repay” those who have been previously kind to them. This concept is called “indirect altruism”. In this study, we are exploring the types of indirect altruism that children might engage in.

    In this study, children (ages 4-5 years) will interact with some characters on a computer screen. A character may either give the child a sticker, take a sticker away from the child, or give a sticker to another character. Sometimes, the characters and the child will be sorted into groups. Either a character within the child’s group, or a character from a different group will decide what to do with the sticker. Later, children will have the opportunity to decide what to do with their own sticker. They may either give their sticker away to a character, keep it for themselves, or take a sticker away from a character.

    We are interested in whether children show reciprocity toward a specific character (e.g., “the zebra gave me one sticker, so now I’ll give her one”), or participate in a more general form of indirect altruism (e.g., “someone helped me so now I’ll help someone else”). We are also interested in how children’s ability to show indirect altruism changes with age.

    We expect that the social “groups” children are put into will have an impact on their sharing behavior decisions, and that they will be more willing to share with members of their own group. This study will us better understand children’s willingness to repay someone that helps them, whether children who are helped are then primed to help others, and the ways in which children choose to perform these acts of altruism.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by Peter Blake and the Social Development and Learning Lab at Boston University.

        » Social Development and Learning Lab at Boston University

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Tallest Tower

    Find some blocks on the 2nd Floor of the Discovery Center. Challenge your child to build as tall a tower as they can, and assist them if they struggle. Help your child by straightening out their existing blocks or adding new blocks to their existing tower.

    Tell your child you are going to build a tower of your own, but act as if you are struggling or can’t decide what to do next. Does your child offer to help you with your structure? What helping strategies does you child offer?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Puzzle Games

    Work with your child to complete a jigsaw puzzle that may be a little harder than they can complete on their own. If your child get stuck, choose pieces for them or provide them with strategies for solving the area they are working on. What is your child’s response to your assistance?

    Now, act like you are having trouble with the part that you are working on and ask your child what you should do. Does your child offer their assistance? How does your child help: do they give you a few pieces, offer strategies or do they work on the part of the puzzle for you? How was the help you provided similar or different from the help your child provided?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff:

livinglaboratory@mos.org