SPI Working Paper Series

WP #: 140

Date: Aug 2015


SPI Funded Paper

The Development of Generosity and Moral Cognition across Cultures

    Jason M. Cowell, Kang Lee, Susan Malcolm-Smith, Bilge Selcuk, Xinyue Zhou, Jean Decety

    University of Chicago
    University of Toronto
    University of Cape Town
    Koc University
    Sun-Yat Sen University
    University of Chicago

Morality is an evolved aspect of human nature, yet heavily influenced by cultural environment. This developmental study adopted an integrative approach by combining measures of socioeconomic status (SES), executive function, affective sharing, empathic concern, theory of mind, and moral judgment in predicting sharing behavior in children (N = 999) from the age of 5 to 12 in five large-scale societies: Canada, China, Turkey, South Africa, and the USA. Results demonstrate that age, gender, SES, culture, and social cognitive mechanisms explain over 20% of the variance worldwide in children’s resource allocation. These results are discussed in reference to standard cultural comparisons (individualist/collectivist), as well as the degree of market integration, and highlight continuities and discontinuities in children’s generosity across urban contexts.