The Effect of Relationship on Children's Distributive Justice Reasoning


  • The authors wish to thank the children who volunteered to participate, their parents, and members of the school system who facilitated data collection. Data reported in this paper were collected in partial fulfilment of an Honors thesis by the second author.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Ann V. McGillicuddy-De Lisi, Psychology Department, Lafayette College, Easton, PA 18042.


Kindergarten, third-grade, and sixth-grade children were told 2 stories about a group of children who made artwork that was subsequently sold at a craft fair. The characters in one story were described as friends, while the characters in the other story were described as strangers (relationship condition). 1 character in each story was presented as the oldest in the group, 1 as the most productive, and 1 as the poorest. Children were asked to allocate 9 dollars to the 3 characters under each relationship condition, provide rationales for those allocations, and rate the fairness of 4 different patterns of allocation. Older children allocated more money to needy friends than to needy strangers and more to productive strangers than to productive friends. Kindergartners' allocations and fairness ratings did not vary with relationship. Rationales for allocation judgements suggested that equality was the most salient principle for decisions at all ages, but the older children provided rationales based on benevolence more often than younger children when characters were presented as friends.