In Defense of the Commons: Young Children Negatively Evaluate and Sanction Free-Riders

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Description: Human flourishing depends on individuals paying costs to contribute to common goods, but such arrangements are vulnerable to “free-riding”, in which individuals benefit from others’ contributions without paying costs themselves. Systems of tracking and sanctioning free-riders can stabilize cooperation, but the origin of such tendencies is not well understood. Here, we provide evidence that children as young as four negatively evaluate and sanction free-riders. Across six studies we show that these tendencies are robust, large in magnitude, tuned to intentional rather than unintentional non-contribution, and generally consistent across third- and first-party cases. Further, these effects cannot be accounted for by factors that frequently co-occur with free-riding, such as the costs that free-riding imposes on the group or that free-riding is often non-conformity. Our findings demonstrate that from early in life children both hold and enforce a normative expectation that individuals are intrinsically obligated to contribute to the common good.

License: CC0 1.0 Universal


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