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Journal Article

Effects of “we”-framing on young children’s commitment, sharing, and helping


Tomasello,  Michael       
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Vasil, J., & Tomasello, M. (2022). Effects of “we”-framing on young children’s commitment, sharing, and helping. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 214: 105278. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2021.105278.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-62AD-6
By around 3 years of age, collaboration induces in young children a normative sense of “we” that creates a sense of obligation (e.g., commitment, fairness) toward their collaborative partner. The current study investigated whether this normative sense of we could be induced purely verbally in 3- and 4-year-old children. Children joined a puppet at a table to draw. In one condition the puppet repeatedly framed things as “we” are going to sit at the table, “we” are going to draw, and so forth, whereas in the other condition the pronoun used was always “you.” Dependent measures gauged children’s commitment, resource distribution, and helping behavior toward their partner. Results showed that both 3- and 4-year-olds felt a greater sense of commitment to their partner after “we”-framing than after “you”-framing. The 4-year-olds evidenced this commitment by showing a greater reluctance to abandon their partner for a more fun game compared with the 3-year-olds. The 3-year-olds did not share this reluctance, but when they did abandon their partner they more often took leave following we-framing by “announcing” their leaving. There were no effects of we-framing on children’s sharing with their partner or helping behavior. These results suggest that verbal we-framing, as compared with you-framing, is an effective means of inducing in children a sense of shared agency and commitment with a partner.