Do kids understand reciprocity, the idea of returning a favor? For example, think of the popular adage, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Scientists conducted a series of studies to find out. They designed a computer game for four to eight-year-olds. In one experiment, another player gave the participants a sticker as an act of kindness. When the participants received an extra sticker to give away themselves, they consistently offered it to a random player-not the player who gave them the prize. But, when another player stole their sticker, they were quick to steal it back from that player.
Researchers say this experiment implies kids are naturally quick to act on their grudges and slow to return favors but, they believe children can learn how to give back. After hearing a story about reciprocating, the kids were much more likely to return the favor to the person who was kind to them, suggesting reciprocity can be taught.
The set of studies included a total of 330 children. Interestingly, one of the studies showed children may not reciprocate others’ good deeds because they may not understand the concept until around age seven.