Children develop a veil of fairness

Alex Shaw, Natalia Montinari, Marco Piovesan, Kristina R. Olson, Francesca Gino, Michael I. Norton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

153 Scopus citations


Previous research suggests that children develop an increasing concern with fairness over the course of development. Research with adults suggests that the concern with fairness has at least 2 distinct components: a desire to be fair and a desire to signal to others that they are fair. We explore whether children's developing concern with behaving fairly toward others may in part reflect a developing concern with appearing fair to others. In Experiments 1 and 2, most 6- to 8-year-old children behaved fairly toward others when an experimenter was aware of their choices; fewer children opted to behave fairly, however, when they could be unfair to others yet appear fair to the experimenter. In Experiment 3, we explored the development of this concern with appearing fair by using a wider age range (6- to 11-year-olds) and a different method. In this experiment, children chose how to assign a good or bad prize to themselves and another participant by either unilaterally deciding who would get each prize or using a fair procedure-flipping a coin in private. Older children were much more likely to flip the coin than younger children, yet were just as likely as younger children to assign themselves the good prize by reporting winning the coin flip more than chance would dictate. Overall, the results of these experiments suggest that as children grow older they become increasingly concerned with appearing fair to others, which may explain some of their increased tendency to behave fairly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-375
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


  • Fairness
  • Inequity aversion
  • Reputation
  • Social cognitive development
  • Social signaling


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