Poetry24 is closing on Friday, 31st May (see notice in sidebar). But until then you can still send your news-inspired poems to poetry24ed@gmail.com

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Babies Understand Fairness

Babies just over a year old are capable of basic altruism,
or trying to help others even at their own expense.
Fairness and altruism are linked.

Being able to sense that a situation is unequal
made babies more willing to share their favourite toys.
A researcher unevenly distributed food between two people,
followed by food shared equally.

Babies pay greater attention
when something surprises them.
They spent more time looking at the screen
if one recipient had been given more food than the other.

The infants expected an equal and fair distribution of food,
and were surprised to see one person
given more crackers or milk than the other.

Babies were given two toys.
Two thirds of the infants offered to share.

Those who offered up their preferred toy
had spent more time looking at the unfair distribution of food,
those who shared their least preferred toy
had paid more attention when food was divided fairly.

The altruistic sharers had been sensitive
to the unfairness of the food video,
while the selfish sharers
showed almost the opposite effect.

© Antonia Hart

Babies understand fairness by 15 months
Editor's note: This is a found poem. To read more about the form, click HERE
Antonia Hart is a freelance journalist. She blogs at http://antoniahart.wordpress.com and at The Anti-Room. She lives in Dublin.


  1. Loved this. There's something hypnotic about the pacing of this poem that echoes a voice over on documentaries, its very, very effective. The poem reminds the reader how some people starve and others don't, in our so called modern world.

  2. Thank you. How quickly we lose our instinctive astonishment at inequality.

  3. I also love what this says about the power of surprise, that babies pay more attention when something surprises them, just like when we read poetry, including a poem like this one. Well done.