Indexed on: 20 Aug '14Published on: 20 Aug '14Published in: PNAS
When enforcing norms for cooperative behavior, human adults sometimes exhibit in-group bias. For example, third-party observers punish selfish behaviors committed by out-group members more harshly than similar behaviors committed by in-group members. Although evidence suggests that children begin to systematically punish selfish behavior around the age of 6 y, the development of in-group bias in their punishment remains unknown. Do children start off enforcing fairness norms impartially, or is norm enforcement biased from its emergence? How does bias change over development? Here, we created novel social groups in the laboratory and gave 6- and 8-year-olds the opportunity to engage in costly third-party punishment of selfish sharing behavior. We found that by age 6, punishment was already biased: Selfish resource allocations received more punishment when they were proposed by out-group members and when they disadvantaged in-group members. We also found that although costly punishment increased between ages 6 and 8, bias in punishment partially decreased. Although 8-y-olds also punished selfish out-group members more harshly, they were equally likely to punish on behalf of disadvantaged in-group and out-group members, perhaps reflecting efforts to enforce norms impartially. Taken together, our results suggest that norm enforcement is biased from its emergence, but that this bias can be partially overcome through developmental change.