• The experiment involved more than 370 children
  • Participants were from various societies in different parts of the world
  • The kids actually challenged their peers playing "by the wrong set of rules"

Some adults tend to challenge others who break the rules, but does this also apply to children and their peers who also appear to be rule-breakers? A "first of its kind" study has found that they actually do.

In a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Germany and the U.K. had a closer look at how children challenge norm violations, the University of Plymouth noted in a news release.

To do this, the researchers looked at 376 children aged 5 to 8. These kids were from eight different societies in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, according to the university.

"What is new about this study is that we observed children's behaviors and traveled worldwide to do so — we didn't ask children what they intended to do, but measured what they actually did in real-life social interactions," the study's lead author, Patricia Kanngiesser of the University of Plymouth, said in the news release.

The test was simple: The children were taught how to play a game using blocks, with half of them being taught how to sort by color and the other half being taught to sort by shape. They were then paired up, and one was tasked to play while the other simply watched.

The researchers shared an illustration of how the experiment was carried out. They found that the children actually challenged their peers more if they seemed to be playing "by the wrong set of rules." It was also more likely for the partner to change their behavior the more that the child intervened, the university noted.

Interestingly, the researchers also found cultural differences in how the children confronted their peers. For instance, the researchers expected fewer interventions from children in smaller or more rural communities.

"We assumed that, because everyone knows everyone else in small-scale communities, direct interventions would be less common, as people could rely on more indirect ways such as reputation to ensure compliance with rules," Kanngiesser explained.

However, the experiment revealed that the case was actually the opposite, with the children in rural areas using "imperative verbal protest" more than the children from urban areas.

The study is the first one to analyze how children behave in response to norm violations in various cultures across the world, the university noted. For the next step, the researchers aim to look at the children's motivation for intervening, and where they actually learned the behavior.

Child Playing With Wooden Blocks
Representation. Esi Grünhagen/Pixabay