Economic trust in young children

Rosati, A.G., Benjamin, N., Pieloch, K., Warneken, F. (2019). Economic trust in young children. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 286: 20190822.

[PDF] [Supplementary] [Supplementary Scripts] [Publisher’s Version] Abstract
Mutually beneficial interactions often require trust that others will reciprocate. Such interpersonal trust is foundational to evolutionarily unique aspects of human social behaviour, such as economic exchange. In adults, interpersonal trust is often assessed using the ‘trust game’, in which a lender invests resources in a trustee who may or may not repay the loan. This game captures two crucial elements of economic exchange: the potential for greater mutual benefits by trusting in others, and the moral hazard that others may betray that trust. While adults across cultures can trust others, little is known about the developmental origins of this crucial cooperative ability. We developed the first version of the trust game for use with young children that addresses these two components of trust. Across three experiments, we demonstrate that 4- and 6-year-olds recognize opportunities to invest in others, sharing more when reciprocation is possible than in a context measuring pure generosity. Yet, children become better with age at investing in trustworthy over untrustworthy partners, indicating that this cooperative skill emerges later in ontogeny. Together, our results indicate that young children can engage in complex economic exchanges involving judgements about interpersonal trust and show increasing sensitivity to appropriate partners over development.