The Sense of Fairness in Chimpanzees and Children

Colloquium | October 16 | 12:10-1:15 p.m. | 1104 Berkeley Way West

 Jan Engelmann, Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley Psychology

 Institute of Personality and Social Research

It is often argued that the sense of fairness consists in an aversion to unequal resource distributions. Standard accounts claim that chimpanzees react negatively to allocations in which they receive less than others, while children, from around 8 years onwards, also react negatively to allocations in which they receive more than others. I will review recent evidence suggesting two modifications of this view. First, I will argue and present evidence that chimpanzees’ reactions to unequal distributions are explainable in terms of general social expectations rather than fairness concerns. Second, I will argue and present evidence that children’s judgments about what is fair are essentially judgments about the social meaning of the distributive act. Children respond to unequal distributions not based on material dissatisfaction, but rather on interpersonal dissatisfaction: they want equal respect. The sense of fairness is thus ultimately about treating one another as equally deserving partners.

Jan Engelmann is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He studies the evolution and development of cooperation. He did his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and a Post-Doc at Yale University and the University of Göttingen., 510-642-5050