Restorative justice in children

Katrin Riedl, Keith Jensen*, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


An important, and perhaps uniquely human, mechanism for maintaining cooperation against free riders is third-party punishment [1, 2]. Our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, will not punish third parties even though they will do so when personally affected [3]. Until recently, little attention has been paid to how punishment and a sense of justice develop in children. Children respond to norm violations [4]. They are more likely to share with a puppet that helped another individual as opposed to one who behaved harmfully, and they show a preference for seeing a harmful doll rather than a victim punished [5]. By 6 years of age, children will pay a cost to punish fictional and real peers [6-8], and the threat of punishment will lead preschoolers to behave more generously [9]. However, little is known about what motivates a sense of justice in children. We gave 3- and 5-year-old children-the youngest ages yet tested-the opportunity to remove items and prevent a puppet from gaining a reward for second- and third-party violations (experiment 1), and we gave 3-year-olds the opportunity to restore items (experiment 2). Children were as likely to engage in third-party interventions as they were when personally affected, yet they did not discriminate among the different sources of harm for the victim. When given a range of options, 3-year-olds chose restoration over removal. It appears that a sense of justice centered on harm caused to victims emerges early in childhood and highlights the value of third-party interventions for human cooperation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1731-1735
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2015


  • 3rd-party-punishment
  • Altruistic punishment
  • Societies
  • Toddlers
  • Infants
  • Cooperation
  • Fairness
  • Behavior


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