CHILDREN’S UNDERSTANDING OF MERIT IN FAIR RESOURCE ALLOCATION
Noh, Jee Young
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While previous studies have documented children’s consideration of merit in fairness decisions, less is known about specifically how merit has been conceptualized by children, as effort and outcome were confounded in merit (Baumard et al., 2012; Kienbaum & Wilkening, 2009). Thus, the current study aimed to disentangle these two components of merit in understanding children’s conceptions of fairness. One hundred children (3 to 6 year-olds and 7 to 10 year-olds) participated in this study. Children’s understanding of merit was documented in four contexts: a) when effort and outcome were confounded (baseline), b) when outcome was controlled (i.e., when the level of effort was varied), c) when effort was controlled (i.e., when the level of outcome was varied), and d) when given the opportunity to prioritize either effort or outcome. Novel findings were that with increasing age, children prioritized effort over outcome and thus found it to be fair when more resources were allocated to the hardworking peer than to the productive peer. That is, older children were more likely to focus on the positive intentions of an act rather than positive consequences compared to younger children. In addition, when merit was examined when effort and outcome was controlled, children were still able to take into consideration for merit, thereby allocating more resources to a peer who was hardworking over a peer who was lazy (when outcome was the same) and to a peer who was productive over a peer who was unproductive (when effort was the same). Interesting findings were revealed when authority figures’ messages were present: all-aged children rejected a teacher’s allocation decision that was against merit; however, older children rejected a teacher’s equal allocation decision while younger children found a teacher’s equal allocation to be okay. The current study made a significant contribution to the current literature by examining the process in which children integrate two different aspects of merit in their fairness decisions.