these are very interesting points posted by everyone here - thanks for sharing.
After reading what you guys wrote I downloaded the paper.
Here I just want to share the "discussion" section of the paper where generally researchers' contextualise their findings and the literature on the topic:
The present results provide evidence that five-year-old children’s generosity is heavily influenced both by the presence of a visible audience and by the transparency of their actions. Although our participants donated allocations generously when the recipient was visible and the allocation options were transparent, children became systematically less generous if one or both of these factors were absent. Overall, actors were consistently more generous when the recipient was visible than when she was occluded from view, suggesting the important role audience cues play in children’s prosocial behavior. However, even when actors could see the recipient, children were systematically less generous when the allocations were presented in opaque containers than when the allocations were presented in transparent containers, that is, when the recipient was unaware of the actor’s allocation options. This suggests that children’s prosocial decisions are indeed motived by extrinsic factors and that the transparency of their actions strongly influences decisions regarding when to act prosocially, even in the presence of an audience.
One striking aspect of our results is that children were considerably ungenerous in our task. Indeed, children only showed consistently prosocial behavior in our study in the condition when they could see the recipient and their allocations were fully visible; in all other conditions, children were statistically ungenerous, giving the recipient the smaller amount of stickers. It is worth noting that this level of prosociality is lower than what one might have initially expected based on previous developmental work testing children’s sharing and allocation of resources, (e.g., , , –, , ). Such previous work has generally reported that children behave rather generously, however it is hard to decipher the role that audience and transparency cues may have played in previous studies. As such, previous studies that observe high levels of generosity may have inadvertently included the same audience and transparency cues that we observe contribute to high rates of prosociality. Therefore, it is difficult to make direct comparisons between levels of generosity observed in our study and those reported in previous research. However, given the strong influence audience and transparency effects had on prosocial behavior in our study, it is our hope that researchers will take these factors into account much more often when designing studies examining prosocial behavior in the future.
One additional explanation for the low rates of giving we observed in our study is that children may have been unintentionally primed to think of our experiment as a competition. When describing our study to children, we referred to our allocation task as a “game” and told children that they could use their accrued stickers as tokens to get a prize. Thinking about our task as a game in which tokens were going toward a prize may have put children in a competitive mindset, thus making them want to try to accrue more tokens than the recipient. Indeed, even adults will work harder for a prize in cases where they stand to get relatively more tokens, even if (as in our task) the tokens cannot be kept and are used to get a pre-determined prize . We also know from previous work that being placed in a competitive mindset causes children to place a larger value on getting more than others (see for example, ). It is possible, then, that children behaved more ungenerously on our task because they thought the game was a competitive one.
The potential for children to have construed our task in a competitive framework highlights another potential framing of our results. We initially interpreted our findings as showing evidence that children exhibit more generosity when transparency and audience cues are present. However, our results are also consistent with the possibility that transparency and audience cues work the opposite way– rather than increasing children’s generosity, such cues might instead inhibit children’s ungenerous behavior.
Under either framing of the results, the upshot is the same: children modify their behavior in response to the presence of audience and transparency cues. When audience and transparency cues were present, children were substantially more willing to give resources to another recipient. Competitive motives may have reduced children’s overall rates of generosity in our study, but children restricted these competitive impulses in cases where the recipient could see them and when the recipient would know if she was given less. We further found that both the presence of an audience and transparency cues independently influenced children’s behavior. Based only on the present results, it is difficult to know whether children acted more generously in the presence of audience and transparency cues, or whether they inhibited their ungenerous tendencies in the presence of such cues.