Early Understanding of Merit in Turkana Children

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154-5003, USA Center for Autism Research, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 3535 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA Department of Cognitive Science, Central European University, Frankel Leó út 30–34, H-1023 Budapest, Hungary Archaeology Section, Earth Sciences Department, National Museums of Kenya, Museums Hill, P.O. Box 40658-00100, Nairobi, Kenya Center for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, Oxford University, 64 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PN, UK Philosophy, Politics and Economics Program, 313 Cohen Hall. 249 South 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA * Corresponding author, e-mail: pierre.lienard@unlv.edu

Abstract

Fairness has been identified as a psychological adaptation to share the benefits of cooperation: unfair agents disproportionately favoring their own interests indeed decrease their chance of being recruited in future collaborations. Given the potential benefits of cooperation, it has been argued that fairness should become functional early in ontogeny as the child acquires more independence and expands her social network and collaborations. More importantly, fairness should appear universally, independently of the specific cultural settings. We study the distribution of the benefits of a collective action in five-year-old children in a non-western tribal society, the Turkana of Kenya. Our results reveal that Turkana children demonstrate a clear understanding of merit and that they take individuals’ contribution into account when distributing a resource collectively produced.

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