Washington: A research team designed a new experiment to test how race and fairness - a social tendency that infants appear to notice - influence babies' selection of a playmate.
The findings show that 15-month-old babies value a person's fairness - whether or not an experimenter equally distributes toys - unless babies see that the experimenter unevenly distributed toys in a way that benefits a person of the same race as the infant.
Forty white 15-month-old babies sat on their parents' laps while watching two white experimenters divide toys between recipients. One experimenter divided the toys equally, and the other experimenter divided the toys unequally, as shown in this video:
Later, when the babies had a chance to choose who to play with, 70 percent of the time infants preferred the experimenter who distributed the toys fairly. This suggests that when individuals are the same race as the infant, babies favor fair over unfair individuals as playmates.
Next, Jessica Sommerville, a UW associate professor of psychology, and her team asked a more complex question. What would happen when individuals who were of the same race as the infant actually stood to benefit from inequity?
In a second experiment, 80 white 15-month-old infants saw a fair and an unfair experimenter distribute toys to a white and to an Asian recipient. Half the babies saw the unfair experimenter give more to the Asian recipient; and the other half of babies saw the experimenter give more to the white recipient.
When it came time to decide a playmate, infants seemed more tolerant of un fairness when the white recipient benefited from it. They picked the fair experimenter less often when the unfair experimenter gave more toys to the white recipient versus the Asian recipient.
The findings have been published online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.