Kids Prefer Lucky Peers

Young children like lucky kids more than the unlucky, according to a new study that hints at one possible reason why social inequality persists.

Researchers at Harvard University and Stanford University presented 32 children, age five to seven, with fictitious kids caught up in four scenarios:

  • Intentional good actors (such as a child who helped the teacher)
  • Intentional bad actors (such as a child who lied to his or her mother)
  • Uncontrollable good events (such as a child who found $5 on the sidewalk)
  • Uncontrollable bad events (such as a child whose soccer game got rained out)

The children rated how much they liked each fictitious kid.

On a scale of 1 to 6, they preferred intentional good actors (average score = 5.2) over intentional bad actors (1.7). More interesting, they gave the lucky kids—the beneficiaries of uncontrollable good events—an average score of 4.8, while victims of uncontrollable bad events scored 3.2.

"The discrepancy in opinions of the beneficiaries of good luck versus the victims of bad luck indicates that children prefer fortunate individuals over unfortunate individuals," said Harvard's Kristina Olson, who led the work.

A second test showed the preference for those smiled on by fate applied to groups, too.

"Because the disadvantaged are more likely to experience negative events beyond their control—such as the tendency for the poor to be most impacted by natural disasters—this innocuous preference for the privileged may eventually grow more harmful, further increasing negativity toward the disadvantaged," Olson said. "Such preferences may, in turn, help explain the persistence of social inequality."

The research is detailed in the latest issue of the journal Psychological Science.