Little dictators: a developmental meta-analysis of prosocial behavior

Ibbotson, Paul (2014). Little dictators: a developmental meta-analysis of prosocial behavior. Current Anthropology, 55(6) pp. 814–821.



Using the dictator game as a measure of prosocial behavior, we combined data from developmental studies from 14 different sites around the world (N = 1,601). We fitted several growth models to the developmental trajectories that varied in their complexity and levels of prosociality. The rationale we used here assumes we can infer something about where all children start on a generous-selfish continuum by looking at the shape of developmental change. We found the model that best explained the variation in developmental trajectories began with a sharing value of 15%, more toward the selfish end of the spectrum. We also found tentative evidence that the rate at which these prosocial attitudes develop is dependent on the norm of the society. Essentially, if the adult sharing norm is higher, as it is in non-Western societies, then the child needs to develop at a quicker rate to reach this norm by adulthood. Results are discussed with reference to whether the history of human evolution has left the content of a norm underspecified while leaving the place to acquire it—a process that we argue is analogous to imprinting.

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