Sharing is a type of prosocial behavior, which is widespread in social society. The exploration of sharing behavior is critical for us to understand prosocial behavior. Reciprocity is an important mechanism underlying sharing, which can explain sharing behavior in an interactive situation. Although previous researches have investigated preschoolers’ sharing when they play as a recipient, there is no consistent conclusion about when their sharing behavior follows reciprocity rule. At the same time, we know little about whether preschoolers’ sharing based on the anticipation of reciprocity, when they playing as an actor.
To fill this gap, the current study investigated preschoolers’ sharing behavior both from a recipient’s perspective and an actor’s perspective. The current study had two aims. One was to investigate when recipients’ sharing behavior would follow the reciprocity rule. The other one was to investigate whether actors would share based on anticipated reciprocity. There were two studies in the current work. The first study adopted the dictator game, and explored recipients’ feedback towards their partner’s previous sharing in children aged 3 to 5. The second study adopted the dictator game and the mini-dictator game. It explored whether actors’ sharing behavior was influenced by their partner’s potential reciprocity in children aged 4 to 5. The main findings in the current study were as following:
(1) By 3 years of age, children could adjust their subsequent sharing behavior according to the partner's prior sharing, when playing as a recipient. Specifically, they would share more if their partner shared with them previously. Moreover, the more items their partner shared, and also the higher value their partner shared, the more children would repay. In addition, the study found that in a repeated interaction, children’s sharing was not only influenced by their partner’s immediately prior sharing, but also by their partner’s previous sharing behavior during the whole interaction. It demonstrated that preschoolers’ feedback would follow a tit-for-tat way in an one-shot interaction. While in a repeated interaction, preschoolers’ feedback was related both with the partner’s immediately prior sharing and with the partner’s previous sharing behavior.
(2) When playing as an actor, children from the age of 5 were able to share, based on anticipated reciprocity. Children shared more items if their partner had an opportunity to reciprocate, especially when the partner held some items with higher value. Yet, we did not found children would share more if their partner had the possibility to repay more items rather than desirable items. These results indicate that preschoolers’ sharing behavior is guided by reciprocity rule no matter they play as a recipient or an actor. What’s more, the guidance of reciprocity for recipients developed earlier than its guidance for actors. These different developmental trajectories suggest that sharing behavior in different parts is based on different mental processes or different psychological mechanisms.