Development of Fairness in Children

Topics: ChildFairness

Fairness is an essential part of the human morality. For instance, fairness can influence a person’s judgement and decisions, such as discrimination, prejudice and favoritism towards a specific group. Within the following studies researchers looked at children’s family and school settings to see how children respond to fairness and its associated behaviors.


To begin with, Sinclair, Dunn and Lowery (2004) hypothesized that children are more likely to develop racial attitudes from their parents based on their relationship. Since education starts at home, children go onto apply the knowledge learned into a school setting.

Poteat and DiGiovanni (2010) hypothesized that the use of biased language and behaviors of bullying and dominance was dependent on sexual prejudice attitudes, which would be most common among boys. Although Poteat and DiGiovanni (2010) focused on the outcome particularly in males, Hughes, Alo, Krieger, O’Leary (2016) hypothesized that age and ethnic labeling would contradict the relationship between internal motivation and external motivation to respond without prejudice. In addition, Brett Lehman (2012) looked into how friends can influence an individual’s self concept.

He hypothesized that friendships can influence the perception of academic self concept and overcome stereotype threats. Shaw, Piovesan, Montinari, Olsen, Gino, and Norton (2014) investigated whether or not children’s decisions were based on how they are perceived by others. They hypothesized that children would appear fair to others in an unfair situations. In most of these studies, the investigations focus on the influence of family and peer relationships.

The overall participants ranged from 6 through 19 years of age.

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Sinclair et al. (2004) decided to survey a total of 89 children from fourth-and fifth grade. The majority of the children were White, who attended two different schools in the Midwest. On April 26, 2010, Poteat and DiGiovanni (2010) sampled a total of 290 students in high school, all equally distributed from grades 9-12. The majority of students were White and consisted of 142 males, 145 females, and three unreported. Hughes et al. (2016) sampled 145 White children from an afterschool program who were eight to ten years of age. Brett Lehman (2012) surveyed a total of 12, 978 students from 132 high schools. Shaw et al (2014) conducted an experiment with 60 children. The group sampled 33 girls and 27 boys. The participants were predominantly White throughout the studies, with a few minority groups.

The following authors conducted surveys, beginning with Sinclair, et al (2004). The children were given a survey to investigate how parents and students identify with each other. To measure the racial attitudes of children that were deeply embedded from their parents, the authors used the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The participants were asked to rate their survey questions on a scale from one being strongly disagree to seven strongly agree (Sinclair, et al 2004). Poteat and DiGiovanni (2010) also used a survey to measure the variables of bullying and dominance behavior within the last 30 days, and the use of bias language was measured within the last 7 days. Students had to recall their recent behaviors, such as involvement in teasing or being in control. Their response options ranged from, “Never” to “1 or 2 times” and up to “7 or more times” (Poteat and DiGiovanni, 2010). Lehman (2012) had the students in the schools participate in a school survey as well as a detailed home survey. The main concept was for students to answer how strongly they agreed or disagreed if students in their school were prejudice. They had a rating scale from 1-5 with 5 being the highest. On a different note, Hughes et al. (2016) did not use a survey. He conducted an experiment that divided the children into two groups, which were ethnic-labeling and no-labeling. The groups had to determine the type of information the child would receive during the description. The children were shown four sets of pictures to introduce four new occupations. Two sets of the pictures showed people of the same race as the children, while the other two sets of pictures included people of a different race, which was either African American or Latinos. Once the children were introduced to the new jobs and shown the pictures, the interviewer then asked the children to rate six questions, either an ethnic-labeling or a no-labeling question.

Stephanie:Shaw et al (2014) asked children questions and rewarded them with erasers. One child was placed in a room with their erasers along with a “Non-present child” who had erasers of the same amount. The experimenter stepped out to retrieve a third eraser and while the child was alone, the child was given an extra eraser in secrecy by someone else. When the experimenter returned, they asked if the third eraser should be given to the non-present child or be thrown away. The child chose to have it thrown away in order to appear fair and assumed that the experimenter had no knowledge of the secret eraser.


Poteat and DiGiovanni’s hypotheses anticipated that boys indeed had a higher use of biased language and association in behaviors of bullying and dominance. The boys who reported high levels of bullying and dominance behaviors, were strongly influenced by the amount of sexual prejudice that they expressed (Poteat and DiGiovanni, 2010). Boys do not consider the seriousness and impact that biased language can have on a person or group being victimized (Poteat and DiGiovanni, 2010). This is not to say that low prejudice individuals and girls do not engage in bullying or dominance behavior, but they are less likely to use biased language to hurt others (Poteat and DiGiovanni, 2010). Hughes et al. (2016) noticed that age did not affect the results because the children were able to comprehend the questions being asked. Internal motivation to respond without prejudice was not affected by the ethnic-labeling or the no-labeling descriptions. On the other hand, external motivation to respond without prejudice was not affected when it came to the children who received the ethnic-labeling. Brett Lehman (2012) found that students who were in an all African-American group friendship were more likely to have a higher increase in their academics even if there was a stereotype threat. In this case, the hypothesis was backed up. As opposed to the Hispanic and Asian students, they found that there was no difference in the their academics and stereotype threat.

Cielo Sinclair et al. ( 2004) found that children who agree with their parents about racial issues identify more with parents. And children who did not agree with their parents about racial issues, they deny their parents attitudes. Therefore, parents need to be aware of their actions and attitudes because they are the role models for their children.

Stephanie:Shaw et al (2014) found that a child’s desire to be fair is motivated by wanting to appear fair in the eyes of others. When given the choice, they picked the option that favored them and only created the appearance of fairness. The hypothesis was supported when the child chose to have the eraser thrown out. This signaled to the experimenter that were being fair by having both the “non-present child” and themselves have the same amount of erasers. When the child thought the experimenter had no knowledge of the eraser that was secretly given to them it increased the likelihood of an unfair outcome.


  1. Shaw, A., Montinari, N., Piovesan, M., Olson, K. R., Gino, F., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Children develop a veil of fairness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(1), 363-375. doi:10.1037/a0031247
  2. Lehman, B. (2012). The impacts of friendship groups’ racial composition when perceptions of prejudice threaten students’ academic self-concept. Social Psychology of Education, 15(3), 411-425.

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Development of Fairness in Children. (2022, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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