Children don't understand competitive behaviour until around the age of four, a new study has claimed.
A team of researchers from the University of Warwick and University of Salzburg found most children under four did not have a developed understanding of other people's perspectives or responding “in kind”.
The researchers tested 71 children between the ages of three and five by setting up a game for them. They each had a vertical stand and were told they had to throw a dice and then put the corresponding number of beads on their stand.
The aim of the game was to be the first to fill their stand with beads, taking them either from the central basket or from other players' stands.
The researchers said they wanted to see if the children would take beads from the basket, which was seen as a neutral move, or from another player, which was termed a competitive or 'poaching' move.
The point of taking beads from another player would not only fill one's stand but also foil the other player's attempt to reach his or her goal.
The results showed that very few children below the age of four showed any tendency to engage in competitive poaching moves. This was so even when these children suffered from their opponent's poaching moves as they would not 'retaliate'.
This last finding was seen as especially significant. “If children understood the goal informing the other's poaching moves, one would expect them, at least occasionally, to respond in kind,” researchers said.