Outcomes versus intentions in fairness-related decision making: School-aged children’s decisions are just like those of adults

Agnieszka J. Jaroslawska, Teresa McCormack, Patrick Burns, Eugene M. Caruso

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2 Citations (Scopus)
258 Downloads (Pure)


The notion of what constitutes fairness has been assumed to change during childhood, in line with a marked shift from outcome-based to intention-based moral reasoning. However, the precise developmental profile of such a shift is still subject to debate. This study sought to determine the age at which the perceived intentions of others begin to influence fairness-related decision-making in children (aged 6-8 and 9-11) and adolescents (aged 14-15) in the context of the mini-ultimatum game. The mini-ultimatum game has a forced-choice design whereby a proposer has to select one of two pre-determined offers that a responder can either accept or reject. Due to these constraints the procedure measures sensitivity to unfair intentions in addition to unfair outcomes. Participants had to make judgments about how likely they would be to reject various offers, how fair they judged these offers to be, and the emotion they experienced when thinking about the offer. Contrary to previous published reports, we found that even 6- to 8-year-olds employed a sophisticated notion of fairness that took into account the alternatives the proposer had available to them. Crucially, decision-making did not differ as a function of age. A further, and novel, aim was to trace the developmental origins of temporal asymmetries in judgments about fairness by testing the implications of adopting a past or a future temporal perspective. Across all ages, we found no evidence that fairness-based decision-making varies as a function of temporal location.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104704
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date18 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • decision-making
  • development
  • fairness
  • intentionality
  • temporal asymmetry


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