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Preschool children fail primate prosocial game because of attentional task demands - Zurich Open Repository and Archive


Burkart, Judith Maria; Rueth, Katja (2013). Preschool children fail primate prosocial game because of attentional task demands. PLoS ONE, 8(7):e68440.

Abstract

Various nonhuman primate species have been tested with prosocial games (i.e. derivates from dictator games) in order to better understand the evolutionary origin of proactive prosociality in humans. Results of these efforts are mixed, and it is difficult to disentangle true species differences from methodological artifacts. We tested 2- to 5-year-old children with a costly and a cost-free version of a prosocial game that differ with regard to the payoff distribution and are widely used with nonhuman primates. Simultaneously, we assessed the subjects' level of Theory of Mind understanding. Prosocial behavior was demonstrated with the prosocial game, and did not increase with more advanced Theory of Mind understanding. However, prosocial behavior could only be detected with the costly version of the game, whereas the children failed the cost-free version that is most commonly used with nonhuman primates. A detailed comparison of the children's behavior in the two versions of the game indicates that the failure was due to higher attentional demands of the cost-free version, rather than to a lack of prosociality per se. Our results thus show (i) that subtle differences in prosociality tasks can substantially bias the outcome and thus prevent meaningful species comparisons, and (ii) that like in nonhuman primates, prosocial behavior in human children does not require advanced Theory of Mind understanding in the present context. However, both developmental and comparative psychology accumulate increasing evidence for the multidimensionality of prosocial behaviors, suggesting that different forms of prosociality are also regulated differentially. For future efforts to understand the evolutionary origin of prosociality it is thus crucial to take this heterogeneity into account.

Abstract

Various nonhuman primate species have been tested with prosocial games (i.e. derivates from dictator games) in order to better understand the evolutionary origin of proactive prosociality in humans. Results of these efforts are mixed, and it is difficult to disentangle true species differences from methodological artifacts. We tested 2- to 5-year-old children with a costly and a cost-free version of a prosocial game that differ with regard to the payoff distribution and are widely used with nonhuman primates. Simultaneously, we assessed the subjects' level of Theory of Mind understanding. Prosocial behavior was demonstrated with the prosocial game, and did not increase with more advanced Theory of Mind understanding. However, prosocial behavior could only be detected with the costly version of the game, whereas the children failed the cost-free version that is most commonly used with nonhuman primates. A detailed comparison of the children's behavior in the two versions of the game indicates that the failure was due to higher attentional demands of the cost-free version, rather than to a lack of prosociality per se. Our results thus show (i) that subtle differences in prosociality tasks can substantially bias the outcome and thus prevent meaningful species comparisons, and (ii) that like in nonhuman primates, prosocial behavior in human children does not require advanced Theory of Mind understanding in the present context. However, both developmental and comparative psychology accumulate increasing evidence for the multidimensionality of prosocial behaviors, suggesting that different forms of prosociality are also regulated differentially. For future efforts to understand the evolutionary origin of prosociality it is thus crucial to take this heterogeneity into account.

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13 citations in Web of Science®
16 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:2013
Deposited On:10 Feb 2014 13:26
Last Modified:04 Aug 2017 18:24
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1932-6203
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0068440
PubMed ID:23844201

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