Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX psychology professor receives SSHRC Insight grant to study how sharing and fairness develop in children across cultures

June 25th, 2018
StFX psychology professor and SSHRC Insight Grant recipient Dr. Tara Callaghan (left) and student researcher, 2018 StFX psychology graduate Jessica Delorey

Collaboration. Concern for others. Equality and fairness. How does sharing and a sense of fairness develop in children across diverse cultures? That’s a question StFX psychology professor Dr. Tara Callaghan will tease apart in a new international research study. 

Dr. Callaghan is the successful recipient of a significant three-year SSHRC Insight Grant. The study, A longitudinal study of reciprocal sharing across diverse cultural context, will see her conduct research in two diverse cultural settings; one a traditional rural village in India and the other in Antigonish, a small town in Nova Scotia. Dr. Felix Warneken, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is a collaborator on the project. 

“The reason is to not only see what’s common across cultures, what we may be predisposed to as part of our human nature, but also to see how parents holding different, or even the same, beliefs may socialize or parent their children differently and how socialization goals also play a role in children’s development outcomes,” she says. “Our parents raise us to be successful in the culture we’re developing within. They’re passing on those beliefs whether they mean to or not,” she says. 

“We try to understand where basic psychological abilities and traits are coming from, and the cultural wash that goes over it,” says Dr. Callaghan, who has been conducting research across cultures on the development of positive social behaviors in children since 2002. This research will continue a long-time collaboration with Dr. Warneken and three other developmental researchers, Dr. Peter Blake (Boston University), Dr. Katie McAuliffe (Boston College), and Dr. John Corbit, who will be involved in study design, analysis and student supervision at StFX. 

“Whether we are looking at those basic psychological abilities and how they develop, or the cultural supports and how they impact development, it all leads back to that question, the origins of human nature,” Dr. Callaghan says. 

She says her research is broadly focused on understanding the development of positive social behaviour, altruism is included, collaboration is included, children’s sharing and helping. It’s an area in developmental psychology that’s really exploding right now, she says. And also one that is overlapping with other fields of study such as economic game theory, cultural anthropology and human evolutionary biology. 

“Our team is trying to tease apart the factors that increase or decrease these positive social behaviors, the degree to which they are part of our biological predispositions as humans and how factors like cultural beliefs, parenting practice and children’s experience with other children can shift that around,” she says.  

In the SSHRC funded study, they’ll be looking at a number of psychological abilities that are believed to be foundations for reciprocity; where children understand that if they give something to someone now, that person may respond in kind in the future. The psychological foundations include things like future-oriented thinking and planning, taking the perspectives of other people, and especially their emotional perspective. The target age range is three to five years of age, she says, when there are major changes in social cognition that may pave the way for children to act in ways that are more prosocial, and to be more strategic in their prosocial behavior. The research also aims to determine whether children’s prosocial behavior is predicted by the socialization goals of their parents.

The SSHRC Insight Grant has also allowed her to hire student researchers to work in her lab, including 2018 StFX psychology graduate Jessica Delorey, and Antigonish native Annie Cudmore.

This summer, Dr. Callaghan will travel back to India (where she conducted preliminary research over the winter) to conduct the study with the assistance of Indian field researchers for a three-week period. The goal is to have the first, three-year-old, wave of the longitudinal study completed early in the fall. 



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