Thursday, July 12, 2012
Contra Homo economicus (my italics)
"In our main experiment, each toddler received treats and gave them away, under conditions in which giving was or was not personally costly. The experiment began with a warm-up phase designed to acclimate toddlers to the experimental situation. Each child was introduced to several puppets who 'liked treats' and watched the experimenter give each one a treat (either Goldfish crackers or Teddy Grahams; one kind of treat was used in the warm-up and the other in the main study, with treat type counterbalanced). Puppets 'ate' the treats placed in their bowls, by making 'YUMMM' eating noises and pushing them through the bowls’ false bottoms. In addition, children gave treats to the puppets and received treats themselves (additional details in methods summary). We assumed that children would believe that the puppets ate and enjoyed the treats because previous research has shown that infants and toddlers attribute perceptual states, goals and desires to non-human agents [25,27–30] (cf [31]). Indeed, research suggests that toddlers can distinguish between individual puppets’ preferences for different kinds of treats [32].

After the warm-up, participants moved to the testing phase. Children were (a) introduced to a new puppet ('Monkey'), encouraged to touch it, and told it liked treats. The experimenter said 'Both you and Monkey have no treats right now,' to draw children’s attention to the limited nature of this resource. The experimenter then (b) 'found' eight treats, said they were all for the child, and placed them all in the child’s bowl. Next, the experimenter (c) 'found' a treat and gave it to the puppet, (d) 'found' another treat and asked the child to give it to the puppet, and (e) asked the child to give the puppet a treat from the child’s own bowl (see Figure 2). Participants’ happiness during each phase was coded by the same research assistants using the same scale as in the preliminary study (average alpha = .84)."

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