Equity theory and the cognitive ability of children

J. G. Hook*, Thomas D. Cook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


A number of studies indicate that preadolescents allocate more rewards to those who have done more work. J. S. Adams's (1965) equity theory is most often used to explain this finding. One assumption of equity theory is that persons compute ratios and compare them for proportionality. However, research on logico-mathematical development indicates that children do not solve problems of proportionality until they are 11-25 yrs old. This suggests that equity theory may not be an adequate explanation of how children allocate rewards in experiments on equity. Children's allocation behaviors do change with age, from the possibly self-interested or equal allocations of children under 6 yrs, to the descriptive ordinal equity allocations of 6-22-yr-olds, to the possibly proportional allocations of persons 13 yrs and older. This sequence is consistent with the normal sequence of logico-mathematical development, suggesting that observed allocation behaviors may be a function of cognitive ability as well as manipulated situational variables. (77 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-445
Number of pages17
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 1979


  • cognitive ability, equity theory & allocation behavior, children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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