Discussion paper

DP12288 Altruism and strategic giving in children and adolescents

We conduct a laboratory experiment to investigate the evolution of altruism and
strategic giving from childhood to adulthood. 334 school-age children and adolescents
(from K to 12th grade) and 48 college students participated in a one-shot dictator game
and a repeated alternating version of the same dictator game. Each dictator game
featured the choice between a fair split (4; 4) and a sel sh split (6; 1) between oneself
and an anonymous partner. We nd that altruism (fair split in the one-shot game)
increases with age in children and drops after adolescence, and cannot alone account for
the development of cooperation in the repeated game. Older subjects reciprocate more
and also better anticipate the potential gains of initiating a cooperative play. Overall,
children younger than 7 years of age are neither altruistic nor strategic while college
students strategically cooperate despite a relatively low level of altruism. Participants
in the intermediate age range gradually learn to anticipate the long term bene ts of
cooperation and to adapt their behavior to that of their partner. A turning point after
which cooperation can be sustained occurs at about 11-12 years of age.


Brocas, I and J Carrillo (2017), ‘DP12288 Altruism and strategic giving in children and adolescents‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 12288. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp12288