Cracking (Norwegian) adolescents’ (contemporary) code

How does “inequality acceptance” develop in homo sapiens?

Amazingly, Science – the scientific journal, if not the quest for truth itself – has at last provided an answer: it develops in early adolescence.

According to the abstract:

Fairness considerations fundamentally affect human behavior, but our understanding of the nature and development of people’s fairness preferences is limited. … In real life, people often disagree on what is fair because they disagree on whether individual achievements, luck, and efficiency considerations of what maximizes total benefits can justify inequalities. [Using an abstract computer simulation, we] found that as children enter adolescence, they increasingly view inequalities reflecting differences in individual achievements, but not luck, as fair, whereas efficiency considerations mainly play a role in late adolescence.

Well, at least that’s what they found in a sample of about 500 Norwegian school children. Unbelievably, to even know what country the children lived in you have to go to the supplementary material, available only to subscribers. The word “Norway” doesn’t even appear in the article, except in the authors’ affiliations.

I will not get into the details of the experiment, since I don’t approve, but it’s interesting that one of their results is “hard to explain by cognitive maturation” — meaning it doesn’t seem obvious how kids get from attitude A to attitude B as they age. So, “This suggests that social experiences also play a role in shaping children’s fairness preferences.” Say it isn’t so!

That’s the closest Big Science gets to mentioning culture. For all I know, contemporary Norwegian children are perfectly representative of all human children throughout history. But going into this article I confess I was already skeptical.

5 Minutes later…

OK: Now, based on my own in-depth reading, I have confirmed my suspicion that Norway’s culture is “unique,” partly noted for its “egalitarian outlook” and its state supported arts industry (as well as the fabulous combination of seafood, cheese, and dark breads). The implications of these deviations from the evolutionary norm for the development of “inequality acceptance” remain to be seen.

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