ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (9): 2004-2019.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02004

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Children's distributive justice in group context

JIANG Danying, YANG Yunmei, LI Jing()   

  1. CAS Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2021-07-08 Online:2022-09-15 Published:2022-07-21
  • Contact: LI Jing


How children allocate resources in group context is affected by group factors such as group identification, group status and group norms. Faced with the conflicts between group factors and fairness, some children stick to fairness, while others might change their minds to benefit related groups.

First and foremost, the influence on children's distributive justice by in-group bias varies with age. It begins to have an impact on children's distributive justice around the age of 4, peaks at the age of 6, and slides down at the age of 8, when children prefer fairness the most. The impact of in-group bias is also closely related to how intensively children are involved in distributive tasks. The deeper children's interest is drawn into the task, the greater the impact is. When allocating resources among individuals with different merits, children are far less affected by in-group bias. What's more, the impact of in-group bias is also affected by other factors such as inter-group relations, the number and value of resources, the gender of distributor and accepter. Yet studies on these factors are limited and deeper explorations are to be expected. In the second place, children tend to match or compensate the disadvantaged and rectify injustice formed by group status. On one hand, System Justification Theory (SJT) might be an explanation of the tendency to match injustice, which states that children may justify current social situation, attributing injustice to justice reasons so that to match existing injustice is quite fair for them. On the other hand, the two opposite choices (to match or to rectify) could be explained by cultural differences, specificity of groups and the development of children's fairness cognition. Thirdly, children's distributive justice is also affected by group norms. When group norms contradict with fairness, whether it is a norm of a specific group or a norm formed out of culture and social structure, they will leave an influence on both children's evaluation on others' allocation behavior and children's own allocation decisions. Group norms are as inevitable as other group factors, yet limited research has been conducted on this issue, especially on how fairness interact with both specific and generic norms. Moreover, individual factors are also to be considered when children allocate resources in group context. Among all the individual factor, theory of mind is closely linked to children's resource allocations. Generally, children with higher theory of mind are more likely to be capable of analyzing group factors and balancing motivations to make fair decisions.

With massive studies on in-group bias, we have mastered its features of many aspects. However, the impact of group status and group norms on children's distributive justice remains unknown and intrigued. More attention should be cast on these two factors respectively. Future studies should also have attempts to probe into the interaction effects among these three group factors with more exquisite designs and tasks, thus making more sense of children's distributive justice in group context. Individual factors that matter in group context are also to be explored. It is still quite a mystery to us how theory of mind is related to children's resource allocation with information of group status and group norms in mind. Furthermore, theory of mind can also make a difference on distributive behavior of exceptional children. Clarifying its mechanism will offer a guide for future work on improve prosocial behavior of exceptional children. Meanwhile, more issues closely related to theory of mind need to be discussed, such as inhibitory control, working memory and individual experience, which also bring about changes to children's allocation decisions in group context.

Key words: group context, resource allocation, fairness, children

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