Older children and children from wealthy schools are more generous in a dictator game


Despite the attention given to the role of self-interest in social interactions, humans are highly cooperative even with strangers. Altruism towards non-kin is often regarded as a product of social norms - cultural values that promote altruism through the reward of behaviours that comply with the norm and the punishment of those that are deemed unacceptable. This study looks at the emergence of norms for altruistic behaviour in children, using a ‘dictator game’. Dictator games, in which one player can choose to share a donation with a second player, are ideal for investigating altruism in children. In fact, thanks to their simple rules, dictator games are easily understood even at a very young age.


The donation used for the game is a collection of 10 stickers. Children of different i) ages (4, 6, 9 years old); ii) gender (male and females); and iii) socioeconomic status (high- versus low-socioeconomic status of the neighborhood) differ in the amount of stickers that they decide to give to another unknown girl or boy from their classroom. Older children and children from high-socioeconomic contexts donate more. Moreover, the number of instances in which the child donates nothing declines with age for children of both high- and low-socioeconomic status, but this drop is faster in high-socioeconomic contexts.


Overall, children are as likely as adults to make a donation in the dictator game, and prior conclusions that depict young children as selfish individuals need revision. The fact that even 4-year-olds choose to donate some of their stickers to an unknown classmate, shows an early basis for altruism which highlights the importance of altruistic behaviour in human social life. Moreover, the increase of donations with age, especially in children from high-socioeconomic status, might show the effect of local norms and practices of socialization. As poverty is often linked with less trust and cooperation, children from a disadvantaged background might not have the opportunity to experience high levels of altruism towards strangers nor to learn the same set of norms for altruistic behaviour as children from a less disadvantaged background.


Developmental Psychology

Subject Group

Experimental Psychology


dictator game



social norms

Posted by


on Tue Aug 04 2020

Article ID


Details of original research article:

Benenson JF, Pascoe J, Radmore N. Children's altruistic behavior in the dictator game. Evolution and Human Behavior. 2007;28:168-175.

Followed by:

The ‘cooperative phenotype’: people that pay a cost to themselves to help a stranger, are likely to do so again and in different circumstances.

Posted by: ElenaZwirner Posted Sat Aug 01 2020


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