Global Fieldwork: Understanding Sharing in Cambodia by Professor Jean Decety

Jean Decety, Irving B. Harris Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry
Edited by: Andrew Bauld and Louise Lerner | UChicago News

Decety: Much of prior work on resource allocation and distributive justice has focused on children from Western countries in particular North America and Western Europe. Using mainly these samples in academic research may lead to inaccurate generalizations about human nature, which is problematic when trying to identify core mechanisms of the human mind. Going to other counties allows us to look at whether sharing, sensitivity to fairness and justice, is universal across all countries and cultures and what’s impacted by the local culture or economy.


The current project that I am conducting investigates children aged 4–11 in 15 diverse societies by testing them with behavioral economics games to assess, moral judgment, resource allocation and distributive justice. I visited each of the 15 countries at least once, to train local research assistants and meet with school teachers, organize data collection, and obtain approval from Ethics Committees. In Cambodia, in a very poor rural village just outside the Vietnamese border, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the children and teachers when they welcomed me. They were so excited and enthusiastic to be involved in this project.


This summer I also was invited to give a talk in Israel at the Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and met with colleagues from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to develop a new project for next year. We’re planning a study on moral reasoning and examine group dynamics in a city whose population that is half Jewish and half Arab, and determine how we can facilitate prosocial behavior between children from these two cultures/religions.

This post has been excerpted from the UChicago News feature, "Fieldwork takes UChicago researchers across the globe."