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J Exp Child Psychol. 2014 Mar;119:40-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2013.10.007. Epub 2013 Nov 28.

Fairness as partiality aversion: the development of procedural justice.

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Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


Adults and children dislike inequity-people being paid unequally for equal work. However, adults will allow inequity if the inequity is determined using an impartial procedure, indicating that they value procedural justice. It is unknown whether children value procedural justice when distributing resources. We investigated whether 5- to 8-year-old children would willingly create inequity between two recipients if they could do so using an impartial procedure. In Experiment 1, children preferred to use an impartial procedure (spinning a wheel that gave both recipients an equal chance to get a resource) over a partial procedure (spinning a wheel that gave one recipient a much better chance to get the resource). In Experiments 2 and 3, children preferred to use the same impartial procedure to assign a resource to one of two recipients, even over an option of keeping things equal by throwing the resource in the trash. Importantly, children preferred to throw the resource in the trash to uphold equality when the only other option was a partial procedure. Older children showed a stronger aversion to using partial procedures than younger children. These results suggest that children value procedural justice increasingly during middle childhood and that their fairness concerns may be more about avoiding partiality than inequity per se.


Distributive justice; Fairness; Impartiality; Inequity aversion; Procedural justice; Social Cognitive Development

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