Does life have a sense of justice

Knowledge : sense of justice

At the age of three, children already have a good sense of justice when it comes to sharing: They are more likely to give other children some of their toys if they have previously helped them get hold of them. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (MPI) report that children who do not help are less likely to get something. Chimpanzees do not make this difference, the researchers write in the journal "Nature". This suggests that the behavior is a legacy of our ancestors, who learned to share their prey fairly among one another after searching for food together.

It is true that chimpanzees sometimes hunt other monkeys together in groups - but they do not share their prey peacefully among each other, but are more or less forced to do so by aggressive conspecifics. Human children, on the other hand, share with other children at an early age, write the researchers working with Katharina Hamann from the MPI. So far, it is questionable among experts to what extent this behavior is innate or learned through upbringing. It was also unclear whether small children share more equitably when their “prey” is the result of previous collaboration.

To investigate this, the researchers carried out various experiments with small children: In one experiment, children between two and three years old were alone in a room. There they found a kind of elongated tray with a rope attached to each end. There were also two small toys at either end of the tray. The children knew from previous experiments that they had to pull together on the ends of the rope to bring the toys within their reach. As soon as they did, however, a toy slipped from side to side, so that one child could eventually take three toys and the other only one.

Would the lucky guy who accidentally got hold of more toys give up one of his toys so that both children have two toys? In a control experiment, on the other hand, the toys were distributed according to the 3-to-1 pattern as soon as they entered the room, the children did not have to do something together to get their reward. The result of the experiment: The children actually gave up their possessions in order to restore justice - and much more often if they had previously worked together to get the toys.

The scientists also tested chimpanzees in similar experiments. It was found that chimpanzees do not voluntarily share their food with others. It made no difference whether they had come across the food by chance or a conspecific helped them with it. With humans, on the other hand, fair sharing has developed as a survival strategy: searching for food together requires partners. Conspecifics who did not share a jointly obtained prey would no longer find a partner. In this way, fair sharing may have prevailed in the course of evolution, the scientists explain. dpa

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