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Even 3-Year-Olds Have a Sense of Justice

Scientists know that chimpanzees have a sense of justice — but it has limits. In lab experiments, for example, the primates will punish a chimp that takes food from them by triggering a trapdoor that makes the food disappear. But they don’t step in and inflict similar punishment when they see a food theft between two other chimpanzees. Such “third-party” punishment is considered vital for maintaining cooperation in human societies. People are more likely to follow the rules if they are enforced by everyone, not just the victims of a misdeed. So if chimps don’t do it, what about young humans? To find out, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, gave 168 3- and 5-year-old German children the power to punish after witnessing an injustice between two other parties — in this case, two childlike puppets.

 

 

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