Investigating Minimal Group Bias & Equality Preference in Children's Resource Allocation Tasks

Publication Date

April 2015


Hilary Barth




English (United States)


While young children tend to favor themselves in resource allocation tasks, children age 8 and older are willing to sacrifice a personal reward in the interest of equality. Separate research shows that arbitrarily assigning children to value-neutral "minimal groups" influences their social preferences. The present studies explore whether bias emerges when children are asked to distribute resources between an ingroup member and an outgroup member. This research investigates a proposed developmental trend in children's allocation choices and seeks to determine whether (and when) children prefer certain types of equality over others. Four- to ten-year-olds were given either a blue or a red t-shirt and saw a photo of two people, one wearing the same color and one not. In Experiment 1, participants made a forced-choice selection between two distributions of candy to give to the pictured recipients. Children gave significantly more candy to the ingroup member. Regardless of age, most participants chose One-to-One (1-1) Equality over Inequality. In contrast, children chose No-Reward (0-0) Equality over Inequality more frequently with increasing age. In Experiment 2, participants generated their own allocations of three types of craft supplies and then ranked them from favorite to third favorite. Children again gave significantly more to the ingroup. The tendency for older children (age 8-10) to choose 0-0 Equality more often persisted in Experiment 2; they chose to "throw away" resources and distribute nothing significantly more than younger children. Finally, only younger children (age 4-5) gave significantly more of their favorite items to their ingroup. These findings build on existing minimal group and resource allocation research and add new analyses of children's equality preferences.

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