Have you ever noticed that there are some things kids seem to do reflexively—say, punching a little brother for toppling a Lego tower? Yet, other behaviors, like saying thank you or helping with chores, must be laboriously taught. If it’s instinctive to punish someone who wrongs you, doesn’t it follow that you’d reward the person who helps you? Aren’t the age-old maxims “an eye for an eye” and “one good turn deserves another” just two sides of the same coin?
Peter Blake, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of psychological and brain sciences and director of BU’s Social Development and Learning Lab, set out to better understand how and when positive direct reciprocity—paying back a kindness to a specific individual—develops in young children. “The idea that you pay back specifically the person who helped you is a really important piece for the evolution of cooperation,” says Blake. “It’s what sets up a relationship that will hold over the long term.”
Was it just a lapse in memory? Nope. Immediately after each game, researchers quizzed the children on the identities of the givers and takers. The kids recalled both groups with high rates of accuracy. The findings, which were published in Psychological Science, even held when the scientists analyzed exclusively results from the kids who answered the memory check questions correctly.
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