ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2017, Vol. 49 ›› Issue (1): 17-27.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2017.00017

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4~6 year-old children’s trust in economic game and its influencing factors

LI Tingyu1,2; LIU Li1,2; ZHU Liqi1   

  1. (1 CAS Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Beijing 100101, China) (2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China)
  • Received:2015-11-12 Published:2017-01-25 Online:2017-01-25
  • Contact: ZHU Liqi, E-mail:


Trust is essential to personal well-being and economic success. Trust is a kind of rational behavior, and it is also a kind of social behavior, which may be influenced by the development of individual cognitive ability (perspective taking) and the environment (negative feedback and intergenerational transmission). Research on children’s trust can help us understand the development of trust, and help us establish better informed education programs. To measure trust, prior work has used the Trust Game, a game that requires children to decide how many tokens to invest to other players. However, research on the development of preschoolers’ trust using economic trust game is rare. The current work explores young children’s trust in economic trust game and its influencing factors. To explore these factors, we tested 189 4~6-year-old preschoolers on multiple tasks employed to investigate preschooler’s development of trust. In study 1, the revised version of Evans’ (2013) Trust Game (Surprise Bag Task) was used to explore the preschoolers’ trust. Each game began with introducing the potential trustee. The strange child (trustee) was referred to as “a boy (or girl) the same age as you who attend a different kindergarten.” Then children were given a “surprise bag” (the opaque plastic bag contained toys). After giving the bag to the children, children were told that they could keep the bag or give it to the trustee. Children were told that if they give it to the trustee, the trustee would receive four bags and children were asked if they believed trustee and were willing to give “surprise bag” to trustee (willingness to give as a trust behavior).If they trusted, children were asked how many surprise bags would return from trustee. In study 2, we explored how negative feedback (trustee refused to return supervise bag to the child) affected whether children still chose to trust strangers in later “surprise bag” games. We also explored the role of perspective taking ability (Unexpected location task) in children’s trust decisions. Finally, we investigated the relationship between children’s trust (“Surprise bag” Task) and their parents’ trust. Parents’ trust were measured by trust game questionnaire, they were given 100 tokens. Parents were told that they could keep the tokens or give all of the tokens to the trustee. If parents were willing to give tokens to trustee, the trustee would get 400 tokens. This would demonstrate a willingness to give tokens to trustee as a trust behavior. In study 1, the results showed that more than half of the children gave surprise bags to trustee in anonymous interactions, and there was no significant difference between the three age groups. But there was a significant difference in the number of bags that were expected to return from trustee among the three age groups. Four-year-old children expected significantly more bags would return from trustee than the older children. Young children demonstrated more trust than older children. In study 2 we also found that trust decreased in all age groups after the betrayal (children were told that the trustee refused to return any of the surprise bags to them),. Although some of children still gave their “surprise bag” to the trustee again, most of children did not trust trustee at the second time. The difference between the number of bags expected to return from trustee in the two times was significant, all of the children expected less bags would be returned after betrayal. Specifically, the elder children mistrusted trustee after negative feedback was given, while 4-year-old children still expected more bags to be returned to them by the trustee than 6-year-old children. At age 6 children’s willingness to trust was positively related with children's perspective taking ability. Also, at age 6 children’s trust was related with their parents’ trust, and parents’ trust significantly predicted children’s trust. In sum, children have an early tendency to trust, and younger children have stronger trust tendency than elder children. After negative feedback (a stranger does not return “surprise bag” to the child), children's trust declines, and older children trust less than the younger children. Children’s perspective taking ability is positively correlated with elder children’s trust. In addition, parents’ values influences children’s trust at the age of 6.

Key words: 4~6 year-old preschoolers, trust, trust game, parental transmission, perspective taking, negative feedback