Memory & Cognition

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 757-764

First online:

Let’s swap: Early understanding of social exchange by British and Nepali children

  • Paul L. HarrisAffiliated withUniversity of OxfordGraduate School of Education, Harvard University Email author 
  • , María núñezAffiliated withUniversity of Oxford
  • , Caroline BrettAffiliated withUniversity of Oxford


Recent research with adults has suggested that they readily understand conditional rules that include a deontic or prescriptive element. The possibility that young children might also understand such conditional rules when they are embedded in the context of an exchange agreement was explored in three studies. Children 3–7 years of age listened to stories in which two protagonists agreed to an exchange of mutual benefit. Children tested both in Britain and Nepal were accurate in identifying (1) when either protagonist had reneged on the agreement and (2) when both protagonists had kept the agreement. The findings indicate that young children are sensitive to the obligations that stem from an exchange agreement even if it is made between equals rather than imposed by adult authority.