Putting in a lot of effort to earn a reward can make unappealing prizes more attractive to kindergartners, but not to preschoolers, revealed a new study. The study findings revealed that when 6-year-old children worked hard to earn stickers that they ultimately did not like, they were loath to give them up, whereas 4-year-old kids were comparatively eager to give the unappealing stickers away.
Avi Benozio of Bar-Ilan University and co-author Gil Diesendruck recruited 45 preschool-aged (roughly 4 years old) and 53 kindergarten-aged (about 6 years old) to participate in this study. They found that effort mattered a lot to 6-year-olds. With attractive stickers, the children gave away about 21% if they had been relatively easy to get but only about 10% when they were hard-earned. Similarly, they gave away about 30% unattractive stickers that were easily acquired but only about 17% of the unattractive stickers that were hard to get.
Intriguingly, effort did not seem to influence 4-year-olds children's decision making. When the stickers were attractive, they gave away roughly the same percentage of stickers regardless of how hard they had worked to earn them. And the 4-year-old kids actually gave away significantly more unattractive stickers when they had been hard to get compared to when they were easily earned.
The study findings suggested that 6-year-olds, just like adults, tend to employ a cognitive strategy to accommodate the knowledge that they worked hard to earn an unattractive reward. Specifically, the children translated their effort into value, choosing to keep more of the unappealing, hard-to-get stickers for themselves. On the other hand, the 4-year-olds seemed to make use of a behavioral strategy that involved distancing themselves from the offending stickers, choosing simply to part with more of them.
Benozio said, "Our research suggests that behaviors that appear to benefit another person - such as sharing stickers, may actually stem from the relationship that a child has with that object."
The study is published in Psychological Science.