The Effect of Need on the Allocation Behavior of Children

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Two experiments were conducted to explore the application of the justice of need in school children. Children in Grades 1 to 8 were presented with four vignettes in which hypothetical pairs of children competed in a hurdle-jumping contest. In one version, no distinction was made between the attributes of the two children; in the other three, one member was described as younger, poorer, or both. The subjects divided 20 quarters to create awards for the competitors. The younger subjects of the second experiment made larger allocations to the low performer described as poorer (a task-irrelevant disadvantage) than the older subjects, p < .01; the same comparison in the first experiment approached significance, p < .04. The older children of the first experiment made larger allocations for younger (a task-relevant disadvantage) performers than the younger subjects. The application of need and equality was more prominent for the younger children, and the application of equity was more prominent for the older children. The results were explained as due to a difference in cognitive development between the age groups. They also suggested need as an additional reward allocation principle in children.