Babies as young as 15 months have a sense of fairness, altruism

Updated: Oct 10, 2011, 09:13 AM IST

Washington: A sense of fairness and altruism is present in babies as young as 15 months; they can tell when a food item is being distributed equally or not.

"Our findings show that these norms of fairness and altruism are more rapidly acquired than we thought," said Jessica Sommerville, associate professor of psychology at University of Washington.

"These results also show a connection between fairness and altruism in infants, such that babies who were more sensitive to the fair distribution of food were also more likely to share their preferred toy," said Sommerville, who led the study.

Previous studies reveal that two-year-old children can help others -- considered a measure of altruism -- and that around age six or seven they display a sense of fairness, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.

Sommerville, an expert in early childhood development, suspected these qualities could be apparent at even younger ages, according to a Washington statement.

During the experiment, a 15-month old baby sat on his or her parent`s lap and watched two short videos of experimenters acting out a sharing task. In one video, an experimenter holding a bowl of crackers distributed the food between two other experimenters.

They did the food allocation twice, once with an equal allotment of crackers and the second time with one recipient getting more crackers.

"The infants expected an equal and fair distribution of food, and they were surprised to see one person given more crackers or milk than the other," Sommerville said.