Fairness is an important feature of human resource sharing that promotes unselfish behavior in a wide range of contexts, previous research suggests that children develop an increasing concern with fairness over the course of development. Research with adults suggests that the concern with fairness has at least 2 distinct components: a desire to be fair and a desire to signal to others that they are fair. Across two experiments, we examine whether children’s developing concern with behaving fairly toward others may in part reflect a developing concern with appearing fair to others. We investigate whether children are influenced by social signaling, and then examine whether children develop a tendency to cloak their unfair decisions under social signaling—becoming more likely with age to choose procedures that allow them to be unfair without appearing unfair to others.
In Experiment 1, we examined 270 children aged 6 to 8 years old behaved fairly toward others, the effect of social signaling on children's fair behavior under three kinds of information available conditions, includes social signaling condition, no social signaling condition, other conditions with no social signaling. we investigated whether children are willing to choose unfair outcomes for others, when they believe an experimenter will not know they are being unfair and when they can gain resources for themselves by being unfair. A 3×2 pearson chi-square test on the three conditions in all ages revealed a significant effect of condition, 6 years old, χ2 =13.30, df=2, p<0.01; 7 years old, χ2 =22.50, df=2, p<0.001; 8 years old, χ2 =11.25, df=2, p<0.001. A 3×2 pearson chi-square test on the three age groups in different conditions revealed a significant effect of ages in the no social signaling condition, χ2 =4.94，df=2，p<0.05. No significant age differences was found in other conditions.
In Experiment 2, we examined whether children are concerned with appearing fair to others using a different procedure and also examined whether children’s willingness to use procedures that obfuscate their unfairness from others increased with age. 300 children that aged 6 to 8 years old could assign themselves a good or bad prize. They were given the option of simply choosing which prize they wanted or flipping a coin behind a curtain and then telling the experimenter whether they have won the good prize or the bad prize. A binomial sign test on those children who immediately chose a prize rather than flipped the coin, revealed that children are more likely to choose the good prize than the bad one (83.2%, 114 out of 137, P<.001)，6 years old children (87%, 52 out of 60, P<.001), 7years old children (87%, 39 out of 45, P<.001), 8years old children (72%，23 out of 32, P<.05), As age increased, the percentage of children that choose the good prize is decreased significantly. Among children who chose to flip the coin, 68% (111 out of 163) reported winning the good prize, a percentage significantly greater than 50% (P<.001), this result didn’t differ across age groups.
Conclusions are drawn as follows: the studies provide converging evidence using different paradigms that children’s fair behavior is at least partly motivated by a desire to appear fair to others. children are fair when their allocation decisions were transparent to others. However, in keeping with social signaling models, children were systematically less fair when transparency is decreased. Many children chose to flip a coin rather than selfishly take the better reward for themselves, but some ignored the outcome of the coin and allocated the better reward to themselves. Overall, the results of these experiments suggest that as children grow older they become increasingly concerned with appearing fair to others, which may explain some of their increasing tendency to behave fairly.|