Foundations of cooperation in young children

Kristina R. Olson, Elizabeth S. Spelke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

431 Scopus citations


Observations and experiments show that human adults preferentially share resources with close relations, with people who have shared with them (reciprocity), and with people who have shared with others (indirect reciprocity). These tendencies are consistent with evolutionary theory but could also reflect the shaping effects of experience or instruction in complex, cooperative, and competitive societies. Here, we report evidence for these three tendencies in 3.5-year-old children, despite their limited experience with complex cooperative networks. Three pillars of mature cooperative behavior therefore appear to have roots extending deep into human development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)222-231
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Development
  • Indirect reciprocity
  • Kin preference
  • Reciprocal altruism
  • Social cognition


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