Early childhood investment impacts social decision-making four decades later
Ramey, Sharon Landesman
Montague, P. Read
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Early childhood educational investment produces positive effects on cognitive and non-cognitive skills, health, and socio-economic success. However, the effects of such interventions on social decision-making later in life are unknown. We recalled participants from one of the oldest randomized controlled studies of early childhood investment—the Abecedarian Project (ABC)—to participate in well-validated interactive economic games that probe social norm enforcement and planning. We show that in a repeated-play ultimatum game, ABC participants who received high-quality early interventions strongly reject unequal division of money across players (disadvantageous or advantageous) even at significant cost to themselves. Using a multi-round trust game and computational modeling of social exchange, we show that the same intervention participants also plan further into the future. These findings suggest that high quality early childhood investment can result in long-term changes in social decision-making and promote social norm enforcement in order to reap future benefits.