Science proves Louis C.K. is right!
New studies show the "equality bias" in kids turns out to be a lot like a famous Louis
CK joke about kids and toys
Nov 23, 2013
Science proves Louis C.K. is right!Louis C.K. (Credit: Reuters/Gus Ruelas)
Excerpted from "JUST BABIES: The Origins of Good and Evil"
The comedian Louis C.K. has a routine in which he talks about his daughter’s
understanding of fairness. He begins, “My five-year-old, the other day, one of her
toys broke, and she demanded that I break her sister’s toy to make it fair.” This would
make the sisters equal but the joke here is that something here doesn’t feel right:
“And I did. I was like crying. And I look at her. She’s got this creepy smile on her face.”
Other intuitions about fairness are simpler. Imagine you have two toys and two
children, and you give both toys to one child. If the other child is old enough to speak,
she will object. She might say “That’s not fair!” and she’d be correct. An even split
would maximize the overall happiness of the children — give each child one toy and
they’re both happy; divide them unevenly, and the child who gets nothing is
miserable, her sadness outweighing the extra pleasure of the child who gets two. But
more to the point, it’s just wrong to establish an inequity when you don’t have to.
Things quickly get more complicated. Questions about equality and fairness are
among the most pressing moral issues in the real world. For instance, most everyone
agrees that a just society promotes equality among its citizens, but blood is spilled
over what sort of equality is morally preferable: equality of opportunity or equality of
outcome. Is it fair for the most productive people to possess more than everyone
else, so long as they had equal opportunities to start with? Is it fair for a government
to take money from the rich to give to the poor — and does the answer change if the
goal of such redistribution is not to help the poor in a tangible sense, but just to make
people more equal, as in Louis C.K.’s story of breaking his other daughter’s toy?
The psychologist William Damon, in a series of influential studies in the 1970s, used
interviews to explore what children think about fairness. He found that they focus on
equality of outcome, and ignore other considerations. As an illustration, consider this
snippet from one of his studies (children are being asked about an uneven division of
Experimenter: Do you think anyone should get more than anyone else?
Anita (7 years, 4 months): No, because it’s not fair. Somebody has thirty-five cents
and somebody has one penny. That’s not fair.
Experimenter: Clara said she made more things than everybody else and she should
get more money.
Justice and fairness
|San Diego Education Report