Children as young as five will step in to stop a peer from breaking the rules, a study suggests.
The study of 376 children aged five to eight from societies around the world found that they were willing to challenge their peers who break the rules and that this appears to be a ‘human universal’.
Led by the University of Plymouth and the Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany, the study looked at three urban sites on three different continents – South America, Europe and Asia – and five rural sites on two continents – South America and Africa.
Children were introduced to a new sorting game using blocks, where half learned to sort blocks by shape and the other by color.
Once the children learned their respective rule, one child acted as a player and the other as an observer.
Observers were first matched with a player who had learned the same sorting rule as them, and then with a player who had learned a different rule.
The study found that children were 255% more likely to intervene if they saw a rule broken than when they were matched with a player following the rules they had learned.
The researchers expected children in large urban communities to intervene more, but found that children in small rural communities were just as likely to intervene.
Children in rural areas were also found to prefer a mandatory verbal intervention – telling the player how to play – to an intervention referring to the rules.
Overall, young children were also more likely to intervene than their older peers.
When observers intervened, players were more likely to change the way they played.
Lead author Patricia Kanngiesser, University of Plymouth, said: “What is new about this study is that we have observed the behaviors of children and have traveled around the world to do so – we do not. We didn’t ask the kids what they intended to do, but we measured what they actually did in real-life social interactions.
“It was also very interesting to see that the way the children corrected each other varied from place to place,” she added, saying the researchers were surprised by the findings that the children of the small rural communities protested “as much or more than the children of the urban areas”.
“We assumed that because everyone knows everyone in small-scale communities, direct interventions would be less common, as people might rely on more indirect means such as reputation to ensure compliance. rules. But we actually found the opposite to be true, ”she said.
“The next step is to further explore what motivates children to intervene and how they learn to intervene. For example, do they teach adults or older children around them how to react if rules are broken? “