Jara-Ettinger: Children’s ability to count is key to distributing resources


November 19, 2015

Julian Jara-Ettinger what counts as fair

There are many ways to divvy up a pile of cookies. Among the possibilities: Everyone can get an equal number, or those who contributed more to the cookie baking can get a larger share. In studies, young children usually default to splitting up resources equally. However, as children get older, they shift toward a merit-based approach, in which people who work harder on a task are rewarded with a bigger portion.

New research from neuroscientists at MIT and the University of Rochester suggests that this shift is heavily influenced by children’s ability to count. In a study of children from the Tsimane’ tribe in the Amazon, who learn to count at widely varying ages, they found that counting ability was the biggest predictor of how children would divide resources. “It’s a very strong effect,” says Julian Jara-Ettinger, an MIT graduate student and lead author of the study, which appears in Developmental Science. The paper’s senior author is Steve Piantadosi, a former MIT graduate student who is now an assistant professor at Rochester.  Read more

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