Figure 1: the trial methods
Solid red circles represent red marbles, resources which participant or puppets already possess; solid blue circles represent new resource distributions; and larger white circles and white squares represent dishes.

One puppet distributed the marbles between itself and the participant according to the equal-outcome (EO) principle – for example, in the participant condition, the puppet distributed five of eight blue marbles to itself and the other three to the participant. So, they would both end up with five. Next, one puppet distributed the marbles between itself and the participant according to the equal-allocation (EA) principle – for example, without considering the two red marbles already held by the participant, six blue marbles were shared equally between both parties (three and three). Finally, the participants were asked, “Which distribution do you like?”

In two of the six trials, the participants gained the same amount of resources either way (no-cost), in two trials the participant received a smaller amount if they chose equal-outcome (costly-EO), and in the remaining two trials participants received a smaller amount if they chose equal-allocation (costly-EA).

Both adults and children tended to choose distribution by equal-outcome under all conditions, showing that most people prefer to share resources so that everyone ends up with the same amount. This also demonstrates that previous studies of preference for equal distribution actually show a preference for equal outcome.

Figure 2: Percentages of participants who chose equal-outcome (EO) and equal-allocation (EA) ( *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001. )

In real life, new goods are often distributed when some of us already have goods – we don’t all start from an equal footing. This study revealed the psychology of young children when faced with this situation. Associate Professor Hayashi comments, “These findings suggest that when someone distributes a new resource equally in an unequal situation, the distributor must prepare a good explanation for their choices. This could have implications not only for individuals, but for organizations, societies and nations as well.”

Journal information
Preference for distribution by equal outcome in 5-and 6-year-old children

Hajimu Hayashi

European Journal of Developmental Psychology
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